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Starry Saxifrage

Saxifraga stellaris

  • Latin synonym: Micranthes stellaris
  • Name also: Star Saxifrage, Hairy Kidney-wort
  • Family: Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock branched.
  • Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in). Stem leafless scape, with glandular hairs, usually reddish.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white and often red-spotted, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide; petals five, 4–6 mm (0.2 in.) long, 2–3 times as long as calyx. Sepals 5, sharp-tipped, recurved, often reddish. Stamens 10, red. Styles 2, fused at base. Inflorescence a long-branched, lax, 3–7-flowered corymb.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette, short-stalked. Blade obovate–narrowly elliptic, with toothed margin, leathery, sparsely hairy.
  • Fruit: 2-parted capsule.
  • Habitat: Fellside snow-bed sites, damp precipices, river and stream banks, seepage surfaces, shallow furrows with scant, slow-flowing water, springs.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

It is easy to see how starry saxifrage got its name: its white flowers with their regularly spreading petals are just like small stars. The charm of the starry flowers is increased by the colourful spots at the base of the petals and the usually red anthers and pistils. One shoot usually has a number of flowering scapes so it can have a long flowering time. Starry saxifrage produces a lot of seeds and also propagates vegetatively. Starry saxifrage is quite common on the fell tundra of Enontekiö and Utsjoki, and its southernmost habitat is on Pallastunturi Fell.

Leafy saxifrage (leafystem saxifrage, S. foliolosa) is a close relative of starry saxifrage and they were earlier regarded as the same species. Leafy saxifrage has adapted even longer than starry saxifrage to the harsh conditions on the fells: pollination and seed-ripening are not guaranteed in Lapland’s short and unpredictable summer, so leafy saxifrage has replaced flowers with bulbils. The stem can be terminated by a number of flowers, but it hasn’t been proved that they produce seeds. Leafy saxifrage can be found on the high fells of Enontekiö, and it is most common in Finland in its north-western “arm”. It is worth looking for the small plants on the fells around damp snow-bed sites, stream banks, wet rock surfaces and springs. Leafy saxifrage is calciphile.

Drooping Saxifrage

Saxifraga cernua

Another Lappish saxifrage with bulbils is drooping saxifrage (known also as nodding saxifrage or bulblet saxifrage). The species is calcicole (only grows on soils with lime). All axillary buds of this species will loosen and turn to bulbils and later, at least part of them will form new plants. Because of loosing bulbils the master plant will stay branchless. Although the flower of drooping saxifrage is quite ‘normal’ attracting pollinators with sweet fragrant and offering nectar, seeds have never been seen forming.

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

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