Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage

Chrysosplenium alternifolium

  • Name also: Alternate-leaf Golden Saxifrage
  • Family: Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. With runners, forms mat-like stands.
  • Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in.). Stem delicate, 3-edged, 1–3-leaved, almost glabrous, but hairy at least at base.
  • Flower: Corolla lacking. Calyx regular (actinomorphic), lime green, 5–6 mm (0.2–0.24 in.) wide, fused, central flower 5-lobed, others 4-lobed. Stamens 8. Styles 2, fused at base. Inflorescence corymbose; subtending bracts petaloid, lime green, cordate–blunt-based.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked. Blade kidney-shaped, usually with rounded teeth (crenate), sparsely haired.
  • Fruit: Unilocular capsule, bowl-shaped lid opening along one side forming a long, narrow gap. Seeds dark brown–almost black.
  • Habitat: Springs, stream-banks, ditch-banks, rich mixed swamps, wet hollows, waterside wetlands.
  • Flowering time: May–June.

Golden saxifrages’ delicate green leaves and yellow crowns are a joy to behold in the spring when there is not much other colour around. Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage rushes to flower as soon as the snow melts, before tree leaves can block out the sun. It often spreads and forms stands in quagmires and wetlands. The species favours rich habitats and clay. The flowers are small, lack a corolla, and are a modest lime green, but the yellowish upper leaves that surround them make the crown beautifully ornamental. The capsule opens upwards like a bowl, and when a raindrop hits the capsule, the seeds splash out of the bowl with the water. The fruits ripen quickly at the beginning of summer and its beauty begins to fade as the flower stems begin to wither. This process is often advanced by the time that it is left in the shade by large-leaved neighbours. Even the remnants of the basal leaves are hard to find by midsummer.

Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage’s habitat is under threat, like many early-flowering Finnish plants. In Lapland its place is taken by the somewhat similar though smaller-flowered and completely glabrous northern golden saxifrage (C. tetrandrum). Its flower has only four stamens and its seeds are bright red. There is not normally any danger of mixing these two species up as there are hundreds of kilometres between their habitats.

Other species from the same family
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