How does Edelweiss interact with other organisms, and with which ones does it interact?

In order to survive in their environment, all organisms must have interactions with other organisms. The symbiotic relationships that are formed can be positive or negative, but they are inevitable. Leontopodium alpinum is no exception to this rule, and the relationships that Edelweiss has with the organisms around it have helped shaped its role in its environment.

Edelweiss, being an Angiosperm, is a flowering plant that must be pollinated in order to reproduce (See Reproduction). In order for this process to occur, there needs to be a relationship between the flower and a pollinator to transfer pollen. In this case, the main pollinator is the Muscidae fly. The relationship is mutualistic, with both organisms benefitting from the other in order to survive. Muscidae flies eat the nectar inside of the Edelweiss flower. This causes pollen to collect on the hairs of the fly and enables it to be transferred to other flowers, thus pollinating them (Erhardt 1992). The size of the fly also matters to pollination: “The number of Leontipodium pollen grains found on the insects increases significantly with increasing body size of the insect” (Erhardt 1992).

Edelweiss obtains carbon like all other angiosperms, through the process of photosynthesis. Sunlight is absorbed by certain pigments in the chloroplasts in the plant’s cells, where it is then converted to chemical energy through the Calvin cycle in the form of a 6-Carbon sugar. The plant acquires nutrients such as nitrogen from its relationship with endomychorrizal fungi that grow on its roots. The nitrogen is exchanged for some of the plant’s carbon. Other nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium are absorbed from the soil as well.

There are no found studies on the predators of Leontopodium alpinum, however there may be several animals that feed on the leaves/flowers of the plant. Animals that share Edelweiss’s habitat include rabbits, deer, stags, and small mammals. All of these herbivores could eat the Edelweiss plant as a part of their diet, therefore creating a predatory relationship with Edelweiss.

One of the major interactions that Edelweiss is a part of is the relationship it has with humans. The people who reside in the mountainous regions where Edelweiss is found have been fascinated by it for centuries. “It is said that more people have lost their lives trying to collect it than climbing the high peaks of the Alps” (Erhardt 1992). The fascination with this plant is due to the medicinal qualities that Edelweiss has. It has been used as an anti-diarrhea and dysentery cure for many generations (Dobner et al. 2003). However, there are studies that show that most of the health qualities of the plant arise due to “the presence and spectrum of polyphenolic secondary metabolites” (Daniela et al. 2012). These polyphenols have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (Daniela et al. 2012). The polyphenols are found in the leaves of the plant, but also in the root systems (Daniela et al. 2012). Leontopodium alpinum has the ability to absorb ultraviolet rays, scavenge “free radicals”, and antioxidant properties when used for medicinal purposes (Daniela et al. 2012). These properties are all very helpful to humans for a variety of conditions. From skin diseases to stomach conditions, Edelweiss has been helpful in more ways than one would think.

This relationship Edelweiss has with humans is predatory, because in order for the organism to be used as a beneficial supplement by humans, the plant must be harvested and therefore killed. However, the plant is not necessarily consumed for energy by humans, only harvested for medicinal purposes. The plant is, however, protected in many countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and Norway (Erhardt 1992).

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This page was completed by Peter Tenpas