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Yellow Marsh Saxifrage

Saxifraga hirculus

  • Family: Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rhizome branching–branchless, brownish. With short runners, sometimes slightly tufted.
  • Height: 5–30 cm (2–12 in.). Stem ascending, branchless, many-leaved, upper part brown-haired, lower part slightly reddish.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), yellow, central part red-dotted, approx. 2–3 cm (0.8–1.2 in.) broad; petals five, 10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in.) long. Sepals 5, recurved. Stamens 10. Pistil of 2 carpels fused at base, styles 2. Flower solitary or groups of 2–3 flowers. Flower with repulsive smell.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette and alternate along stem, short-stalked–stalkless. Blade lanceolate, with entire margins.
  • Fruit: 2-parted capsule.
  • Habitat: Fens, fen meadows, springs. Calciphile.
  • Flowering time: July–August.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected in all of Finland.

Most of the genus Saxifrage plants that grow in Finland are either fell plants or else they grow among rocky outcrops in the south-west of the country. Yellow marsh saxifrage is a bog plant, however, and is unique in this respect. The repulsive, goatish smell that is peculiar to its stands is said to be the basis for its scientific name hirculus, which means ‘small goat’. It is not so easy to check this claim out, however, because it has become so rare that there are not many botanists who have laid eyes on it in the wild. Bogs were drained and dried so eagerly during the Industrial Age that less than half of them are in their natural state. This is especially true of the relatively nutritious bogs that yellow marsh saxifrage favours, and the species has been one of the most badly affected. Yellow marsh saxifrage has not fared much better elsewhere in Europe, and the disappearance of its habitat has given it severe challenges and practically driven it to the brink of extinction in many places.

Yellow marsh saxifrage is demanding with regards to habitat, and its most fruitful hunting ground is central Lapland, although it also grows here and there in northern Finland and eastern and western parts of central Finland. Its demands are so great, however, that it cannot be said to be common in any place. It mostly thrives in springs, but can also be found in barren bogs close to the source of the spring and beside flowing streams. Rich fens are its real heartland, however. It is particularly fond of spacious birch fens, where the sparse trees give the environment a park-like feel. The species favours habitats that are rich in iron and phosphorus and have running water, and in its favourite places the soil often has a bluish tinge from the oxidisation caused by iron phosphate.

Yellow marsh saxifrage is easily missed when it is not in flower. In high summer its creeping stems begin to rise up and bloom, and at this stage it can resemble marsh willowherb (Epilobium palustre). Yellow marsh saxifrage is a rare late-flowerer amongst bog species, often only blooming at the end of July and continuing to flower up until September.

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

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