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Snow Pearlwort

Sagina nivalis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Caryophyllaceae (Pink)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
5 centimetres tall
Meadows, mountains, rocky places.

White, 5 petals
Flower stalks are up to 3cm long. The flowers are very small, often with purple-edged sepals. 4 to 5 white petals.
Roundish, 4-parted fruits.
A very small biennial flower, often overlooked. The leaves are compact and moss-like in appearance.
Other Names:
Alpine Pearlwort, Lesser Alpine Pearlwort, Mountain Pearlwort.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Sagina nivalis, also known as alpine pearlwort or mountain pearlwort, is a small perennial herb in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is native to mountains of Europe, Asia and North America, and typically grows in alpine, tundra and subalpine habitats, such as rocky areas, scree slopes and meadows. The plant has small, green leaves and tiny white flowers that bloom in the summer. The root of the plant is not edible and it is not considered to be toxic. It is mainly used as a ground cover or in rock gardens. It is known for its ability to survive in harsh, alpine environments, and can be useful for stabilizing soil in erosion-prone areas. It is also sometimes used in traditional medicine to treat certain ailments and in horticulture as a ground cover.


Snow Pearlwort: A Tiny Wonder of the Alpine Landscape

The alpine landscape is home to a myriad of unique and fascinating plant species, many of which have adapted to survive in the harsh and unforgiving conditions found at high altitudes. Among these is the snow pearlwort, or Sagina nivalis, a small but hardy plant that can be found growing in the rocky crevices and gravelly soils of alpine and subalpine regions around the world.

Physical Characteristics of Snow Pearlwort

Snow pearlwort is a low-growing plant that rarely exceeds more than a few centimeters in height. It has a dense mat-like growth habit, with tiny, delicate leaves that are no more than a few millimeters long. The leaves are a bright green color and are covered with fine hairs, which help to protect the plant from the cold and windy conditions found in its natural habitat.

In the summer months, snow pearlwort produces small white flowers that are no more than a few millimeters across. These flowers are held on slender stalks that rise above the leaves, and are often so numerous that they completely cover the plant, creating a delicate and beautiful carpet of white.

Habitat and Distribution of Snow Pearlwort

Snow pearlwort is found primarily in alpine and subalpine regions around the world, where it grows in rocky crevices, gravelly soils, and other areas where there is limited soil and water. It is particularly common in the mountains of Europe, where it can be found growing at elevations of up to 3,000 meters, as well as in the high altitude regions of Asia, North America, and the Arctic.

Adaptations of Snow Pearlwort to its Environment

Snow pearlwort has several adaptations that allow it to survive in the harsh alpine environment. Its small size and low-growing habit help it to avoid being buffeted by the wind, while its dense growth habit helps to protect it from the cold. The fine hairs on the leaves also help to trap warm air around the plant, further protecting it from the elements.

In addition, snow pearlwort has a shallow root system that allows it to quickly absorb any moisture that is available, and it is able to survive for long periods without water by entering a state of dormancy until conditions improve.

Ecological Importance of Snow Pearlwort

Despite its small size, snow pearlwort plays an important role in the alpine ecosystem. It helps to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, and provides a source of food for insects and other small animals that live in the mountains. In addition, its delicate white flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and other pollinators, and help to support the wider ecosystem by promoting biodiversity.

Snow pearlwort may be small, but it is a fascinating and important plant that has adapted to survive in one of the harshest environments on earth. Its delicate beauty and ecological importance make it a valuable part of the alpine landscape, and a species that is worth protecting for future generations to enjoy.

Uses of Snow Pearlwort in Traditional Medicine

Snow pearlwort has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in Europe, where it was used to treat a range of ailments, including coughs, sore throats, and stomach problems. It was also used as a diuretic and to treat bladder and kidney problems.

Recent studies have found that snow pearlwort contains a number of bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, tannins, and saponins, which may have a range of therapeutic effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties.

Conservation Status of Snow Pearlwort

Although snow pearlwort is not currently listed as threatened or endangered, it is considered to be at risk due to the loss of its natural habitat as a result of human activities such as mining, tourism, and urbanization. Climate change is also a potential threat, as rising temperatures could cause the plant to lose its ability to survive in the alpine environment.

As such, it is important that efforts are made to protect the natural habitats of snow pearlwort and to promote conservation measures that will ensure the long-term survival of this important and fascinating plant species.

Snow pearlwort is a tiny wonder of the alpine landscape, a plant that has adapted to survive in one of the harshest environments on earth. Its delicate beauty, ecological importance, and medicinal properties make it a valuable and fascinating plant species, and one that is worth protecting for future generations to enjoy. Efforts to conserve this species and its habitat will help to ensure that it continues to thrive in the alpine landscape for many years to come.

Cultural Significance of Snow Pearlwort

Snow pearlwort has also been an important plant in the folklore and culture of some regions where it grows. In Scotland, for example, it is known as "the snowflake," and was believed to bring good luck and protection from evil spirits. It was also used in traditional Scottish wedding bouquets, as it was thought to represent purity and innocence.

In Iceland, snow pearlwort is known as "frostflower," and was traditionally used in the production of a type of schnapps called "jökull," which translates to "glacier." The schnapps was made by soaking the flowers in vodka or aquavit, and was said to have a bitter, herbal flavor.

In addition to its cultural significance, snow pearlwort is also sometimes used in landscaping and gardening, as it is a hardy and attractive ground cover that is well-suited to alpine and rock gardens.


Snow pearlwort may be a small and unassuming plant, but it has played an important role in the culture, folklore, and ecology of the alpine landscape for centuries. Its delicate beauty, hardiness, and adaptability have made it an important part of the mountain ecosystem, and a plant species that is worth celebrating and protecting for many years to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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