Your summit encounters with high-altitude plants

Vertical Flora programme
You have been climbing for several hours now, following your climbing companion. The sun rose a short time ago and you can now see the peaks around you. The landscape is magnificent. You are probably the only living beings to venture so far into this ocean of ice and rock... In front of you, the guide suddenly stops. Is there a problem? When you reach him, he shows you something in the cliff: it's a tiny plant that is making its way towards the light.

High mountain plants are impressive in their ability to adapt to extreme conditions: they can withstand heavy snowfall, very cold temperatures, UV exposure and drought. In the Himalayas, plants survive at altitudes of over 6,000 meters. In the Alps, the highest plant observed was an opposite-leaved saxifrage (4,505 m altitude) observed in 2010. In the Mont Blanc massif, the highest plant is a Saussure's androsace (4,150m altitude), observed in 2020. In the Ecrins massif, it is an opposite-leaved saxifrage (4,070m altitude).

The distribution and phenology of these plants in the high mountains remain largely unknown, due to the difficulty of access to these areas. At what altitudes are they found? How do their lower and upper distribution limits evolve? At what time of year do these plants flower? This study could provide fundamental knowledge about their biology and biogeography.

The "Vertical Flora" programme was initiated by the Ecrins National Park and the Alpine Ecology Laboratory in Grenoble in 2009, and is deployed by other organisations such as CREA Mont-Blanc, Asters, INRAE in the framework of the Sentinel Refuges project [link]. It invites mountaineers to map the presence of plants on the walls of the Alps and to obtain information related to their flowering. 

Target audience

High mountain practitioners, Mountaineers, Climbers


Alps, Chamonix valley


Late spring to early autumn

Implementation time

1 minute for the photo, then 5 minutes for entering information

Naturalist difficulty

  • Naturalist
  • Novice


Somewhat engaging
Every observation, even occasional, counts

Species concerned

Wall species

Access to study site

On vertical walls, Along the trails


  • a smartphone (photo)

  • GPS altimeter

The protocol

Show all

1 Locate and photograph

If you spot a plant on a wall during one of your outings, take a photo of it so that you can clearly see its flowers and/or leaves. Feel free to take several photos. Also remember to note the altitude (by taking a photo of your altimeter) and if possible the GPS coordinates (this information is often complicated to assign precisely on the wall, but it will give an indication). Continue your ascent, you will enter your observation on SPOT later.

2 Send

To send us your observation, go to the "Register an encounter" section of the "Observations" page. Once entered, your comment will then be submitted to the rest of the community for co-validation.

Practical advice

  • You can use the species sheets to help you recognise and distinguish between the various plants. The PlantNet pre-identification module will allow you to obtain an initial identification automatically from your photos.
  • Be careful not to put yourself in danger during your observations (attach yourself to a point or a relay, and equip your camera or mobile phone with a string so as not to lose it)

La réalisation de ce protocole nécessite de se rendre en terrain de moyenne / haute montagne ou qui peuvent s’avérer être dangereux, notamment en conditions hivernales. N’hésitez pas à vous renseigner auprès de professionnels pour une analyse fine des conditions météorologiques. Le CREA Mont-Blanc ne pourra pas être tenu responsable d’accidents survenus lors de la réalisation de certains protocoles.