Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Tufted Saxifrage

Saxifraga cespitosa

  • Family: Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Densely tufted.
  • Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in.). Stalk sparsely leaved, glandular-hairy, often reddish.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), white, sometimes reddish or yellowish, greenish scales, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide, petals five, 4–6 mm (0.2 in.) long, almost twice as long as calyx. Sepals 5. Stamens 10. Gynoecium two-styled, formed from two fused carpels. Inflorescence a 1–3-flowered corymb.
  • Leaves: Basal rosette and alternate along stem, short-stalked. Rosette leaf blades spatulate, glandular-hairy, light green, occasionally reddish, 3–5-lobed, toothed, lobes blunt. Stem leaf blades linear, entire.
  • Fruit: 2-parted capsule.
  • Habitat: Lappish rock faces, wind-exposed heaths, frostlands, crevices, gravels, fell heaths.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Tufted saxifrage is a protected plant south of the province of Oulu, just south of Lapland.

The plant’s scientific name Saxifraga comes from the Latin words saxum (rock) and frago (to break). Two explanations have been suggested for the origin of the name. Most Saxifrage family plants favour rocky habitats, and they often seem to be breaking the rock that they are growing out of. The name might also be connected to the plant’s medicinal use however: in the age of semiotics, the doctrine of signs held that features of the plant revealed its properties, so Saxifrage family plants were regarded as valuable medicine for the treatment of bladder stones.

Tufted saxifrage grows in tight tussocks, almost carpeting the ground. This way of growing protects the plants from the often unfavourable northern climate: evaporation decreases, the possibility of damage from hard wind and deep frost lessens, and the base gets packed up with soil. In common with many other fell plants the species is self-pollinating: the stamens bend over the stigmas, shaking pollen on them. The strategy ensures the seed production and the continuity of the species in heavy circumstances of northern climate. At the same time it has contributed to the survival of very small and isolated pockets of the plant. Tufted saxifrage grows most profusely in the most northern parts of Lapland, but patches also grow on Olostunturi Fell near Muonio, further south. Tufted saxifrage grows together in north-eastern gorges with many other plants that favour fell slopes. The area’s exceptionally calciferous bedrock and micro-climate have allowed it to survive until the present day as a reminder of a time when land that was emerging from beneath the receding glaciers was still Arctic tundra. Tufted saxifrage grows on calciferous rocky outcrops further south too, in Kaavi in North Karelia and even in Hyvinkää, only 60 km north of Helsinki.

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