American cacti are rapidly colonising the slopes of the Swiss Alps as snow disappears, says report

Skiiers hit the slopes above the ski resort of Zermatt in the Swiss Alps on November 28, 2020

  • Prickly pear cacti, native to the arid regions of the Americas, are now thriving in the Swiss Alps. 
  • The plants are typically seen in hot, dry areas, such as the Grand Canyon. 
  • “This invasive and non-native plant is not welcome,” said the municipality of Fully in Switzerland.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Prickly pear cacti, which normally appear in hot, dry climates such as the Grand Canyon, are invading the Swiss Alps in a new climate change warning

“A lover of dry and hot climates, this invasive and non-native plant is not welcome,” the municipality of Fully announced as part of an uprooting drive at the end of 2022, The Guardian reports. 

Cactus grows along a hilltop at Grassini Family Vineyards, located in the Happy Canyon AVA, as viewed on March 16, 2022, near Santa Ynez, California.

The plants, which have been present since the 18th century, are spreading significantly in some Alpine regions of Switzerland and Italy. Yann Triponez, a biologist who works in the canton of Valais’ nature protection service, said that “in some parts of Valais, we estimate that the cacti can occupy one-third of the available surface,” per The Guardian. 

Whilst these plants prefer hot climates, they can cope in temperatures as low as -15C (5 degrees Fahrenheit), botanist Peter Oliver Baumgartner told the Guardian. 

What they don’t like, he said, is wet weather. So, diminishing snow cover provides a fertile environment for them to thrive. 

 Snow cover in the Alps has been plummeting. It now is present for about a month less than historical averages, a  situation “unprecedented in the last six centuries,” a recent study published in Nature Climate Change said, per The Guardian. Another study said the number of days where there is snow cover under 2,600 feet has halved since 1970.

Increasing temperatures have made life on the Swiss slopes difficult in recent years, highlighted by a series of photos showing abandoned ski lifts and snowless slopes at the height of ski season. 

In the summer of 2022, thawing glaciers in the Swiss Alps revealed two sets of human remains, as well as the wreckage of a 1968 plane crash that had been frozen beneath snow and ice, Insider’s Paola Rosa-Aquino reported.

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