Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Greater Burnet Saxifrage

Pimpinella major

  • Name also: Great Burnet Saxifrage, Greater Burnet-saxifrage, Hollowstem Burnet Saxifrage
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock horizontal–somewhat erect.
  • Height: 40–100 cm (15–25 in.). Stem branched in the upper part, angular, deeply furrowed, usually glabrous (sometimes hairy at the base), at least lower part hollow, joints with septa.
  • Flower: Corolla regular, white–reddish, less than 5 mm (0.2 in.) wide (outer corollas often slightly zygomorphic); petals 5, notched, with an incurved point. Sepals stunted. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 10–25. Primary and secondary umbels without bracts.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, base pod-like. Blade of basal leaves even-pinnate, leaflet pairs 3–9. Leaflets broadly elliptic–narrowly elliptic, with tapering tip, serrate–slightly lobed. Blade of stem leaves 2 times pinnate, leaflets narrowly lobed.
  • Fruit: Egg-shaped, flattened from the sides, 2.5–3.5 mm (0.1–0.14 in.) long two-parted schizocarp, glabrous, clearly ridged, dark brown.
  • Habitat: Burned forests, fallow fields, waysides, field margins, military camping grounds, harbours.
  • Flowering time: July–August.
  • Endangerment: Critically endangered, protected in all of Finland.

The only place in Finland where greater burnet saxifrage grows apparently indigenously is Liperi in Northern Karelia. The range of the species extends to Lake Ladoga area in Karelia, therefore the individual plants found in our area could be part of the natural geographical range of the species. The species has grown in that area at least since 1868 – no older information about plants in our country exists. Nowadays greater burnet saxifrage can be found in three places close to each other and in some old yards in Eastern Finland, where it has obviously been grown as an ornamental or medicinal plant. The original cultivated plants are often rather big and have reddish flowers – they are probably a different strain from our wild growing individuals. In our nature, the species thrives best in half-open surroundings which have been formed by traditional agriculture, like slashed-and-burned forests, cleared groves, pastures and meadows. As traditional meadow and pasture farming becomes scarce, there is a danger of the greater burnet saxifrage’s habitats becoming overgrown. As an imported plant, the greater burnet saxifrage has been found from the southern coast to Lapland in harbours and in areas where German soldiers used to camp during the war.

As its name suggest, greater burnet saxifrage can become much larger than its relative, burnet saxifrage (P. saxifraga). On top of this, the stem of greater burnet saxifrage is angular and deeply furrowed, whereas burnet saxifrage’s stem is cylindrical and almost unfurrowed. The hallmarks of the fruit play a major role when identifying umbellifers. Pimpinellas can be most easily told apart by their schizocarps that ripen in autumn: the fruit of burnet saxifrage is almost smooth, whereas the fruit of greater burnet saxifrage is clearly ridged.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
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