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On the trail of the Niçois snowflake

Monaco’s Department for the Environment is calling on botanists of all abilities as it tries to track down the elusive Nivéole de Nice (Latin name: acis nicaeensis, English name: French snowflake).

The rare and precious Nivéole de Nice. Copyright Direction de l'EnvironnementA bulbous perennial that grows to around 18cms in height, the French snowflake – as it is known in English – usually has just one flower per stem. In French, the rare, pretty white and yellow flower is called the Nivéole de Nice and was first recorded in 1867 by local ecologist Honoré Ardoino according to Kew Gardens’ World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. It is native to the rocky outcrops of the Alpes-Maritimes and is protected in both France and Italy.

In Monaco, a preservation project of the Nivéole de Nice has been put in place for the next three years. A recent study has shown that within the borders of the principality, the Niçois snowflake has become an evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) that is quite distinct from its French Riviera cousin – for the purposes of conservation.

Led by the Department for the Environment and backed by the Conservatoire Botanique National Méditerranéen de Porquerolles (CBNMed) as well as the Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Ecologie Marine et Continentale (IMBE), the project is attempting to track down all wild-growing examples of this precious flower. To do so, the department is using drones to access difficult and isolated areas of the region and also calling on the public for its help in the search.

The hope is that the project will enable the species to flourish en masse again in the principality after many years of decline in numbers. The Department of the Environment is also keen to develop existing populations and create new acis nicaeensis communities in and around Monaco.

If you come across one of these delicate flowers, which will be in bloom until early May, please email environnement@gouv.mc with information regarding its location, the date of discovery, your name and photos of the plant.