Military service across the globe is a source of immense pride, and each unit or nation expresses that pride in unique ways. Sailors often adorn themselves with symbolic tattoos, each one a story waiting to be told. In the army, elite Special Forces units might wear distinctive headgear, a mark of their rigorous training and demanding missions. Similarly, the Queen’s Guards in the United Kingdom are instantly recognizable by their iconic bearskin hats. However, during World War I, German soldiers forged a different path.

They chose the humble edelweiss flower, a symbol of resilience that thrived in harsh mountain environments, as a subtle yet powerful emblem of their warrior spirit.

Edelweiss Flowers

Also known as Leontopodium alpinum, edelweiss is a perennial plant of the family Asteraceae, native to the Alps and South America. Each cluster is usually composed of two to ten yellow flower heads, and below are six to nine lance-shaped, woolly, white leaves arranged like a star.

Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum). Chme82, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Its German name is a combination of two words, “noble” and “white.” And because it’s native to the Alps, these beautiful and delicate flowers usually grow at 10,000 feet above sea level, which means you will need to hike quite far to find and get one.

German Troops Hike To Get Them

So German troops would drag their weapons along with them, climb straight up the mountain, and even risk their lives to find these little white flowers. When somebody hands you this flower, you’ll know that they spent time and effort in hiking just to gather and bring them. In fact, even the Swiss young men in the 19th century would risk their lives to collect edelweiss to give them as a gift to their brides as a sign of purity.

The Commemorative Edelweiss

In 1915, a pivotal year in World War I, the Commemorative Edelweiss badge became the first official German insignia specifically awarded to soldiers within a division or corps. This unique badge, shaped like the resilient mountain flower Leontopodium alpinum, held deep symbolic meaning.

The edelweiss thrives in harsh, rocky environments, mirroring the fortitude of the Alpine Corps soldiers who wore it. As noted by Antique Photos, the badge sometimes included a stem and leaves, further echoing the insignia of later mountain troops in the Third Reich.

Mountain cap of the mountain troops.

Period photos reveal a distinction between officer and enlisted wear.