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Flora's delicate flakes

Cotton grasses grow in wet meadows, in swamps and moors or in ponds and lakes in the high alpine mountains. With their conspicuous little white heads, they light up the Ötztal mountain summer in the most beautiful way.

Warning plants for hikers

Seen from afar, the white flakes look like flowers. But it is the infructescence that draws everyone's attention with their long white hair. The actual flowering of the cotton grass in spring is completely unspectacular, hardly noticeable. Of the many types of cotton grass, narrow-leaved cotton grass, sheath cotton grass and Scheuchzer's cotton grass can be found more or less frequently within Ötztal. For us laypeople, the differences are difficult to see. But what we, as hikers, should know in particular: all cotton grasses are warning plants. They point us to wet spots where we could sink in the mud far beyond the edge of our hiking boots if we don't bypass them.


Längenfeld cotton grass

Sensitive little ones in the ecosystem

Cotton grass helps shape the alpine landscape. Its long, subterranean, reddish-brown spurs strongly promote the silting up of water bodies. Therefore, cotton grass is also a symbol for the coming and going of water bodies in the mountains. As plants of nutrient-poor wetlands, cotton grass and its entire habitat are very sensitive to interference with the ecosystem. Like all sour grasses, it reacts sensitively to fertilization and drainage, for example to measures that are usually aimed at more intensive agricultural use.


Längenfeld Hauersee lake cotton grass

Healthy and useful

People who lived near bogs or marshes used the plant as a medicine in ancient times. Cotton grass contains bitter substances and tannic acid. According to the traditions of folk medicine, the roots and young shoots of the plant are said to help against diarrhea and are used for general strengthening. Our ancestors were also resourceful when it came to using the woolly seed hairs for domestic practice - they used them to braid candle wicks, for example. Tufts of cotton grass were often used as stuffing material for pillows on alpine pastures. Cotton grass balls are not suitable as a substitute for real wool. But it doesn't matter - in Ötztal and other Alpine valleys, the real wool of mountain sheep is not scarce at all.


In the Nature Park House and at its six information points within the valley, the Ötztal Nature Park provides detailed information about the protected flora and fauna of the area as well as guided hikes and events in the valley at: www.naturpark-oetztal.at

Isolde v. Mersi

Guest author: Isolde v. Mersi

Isolde von Mersi comes from South Tyrol's Pustertal valley and lives in Vienna now. As a popular reporter and book writer for Austrian and German magazines and publishing houses, she explores a huge variety of cultural, culinary and naturalistic treasures of the Alpine countries and its people.

She has been feeling at home in Ötztal for many years already as she contributes to the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE on a regular basis. And she has found many friends in the valley.