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Burnet Saxifrage

Pimpinella saxifraga

  • Name also: Solidstem Burnet Saxifrage, Lesser Burnet, Burnet-saxifrage
  • Family: Carrot Family – Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock quite erect, sturdy.
  • Height: 20–50 cm (8–20 in.). Stem solitary–several united, branched, round, almost grooveless, usually either entirely hairy or glabrous, full–unclearly hollow.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (outermost flowers slightly zygomorphic), white (occasionally reddish), under 5 mm (0.2 in.) wide; petals 5, notched, tip recurved. Calyx vestigial. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a compound umbel, secondary umbels 7–12. Primary and secondary umbels lacking bracts.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, glabrous–hairy, base sheath-like. Basal leaf blade pinnate, leaflets roundish–widely elliptic, with toothed margins, sometimes narrowly lobed. Stem leaf blade 2 times pinnate, leaflets varyingly narrowly lobed.
  • Fruit: Broadly egg-shaped–quite elliptic, with flattish sides, 2-parted, almost ridgeless, glabrous, dark brown, 2–2.5 mm (0.1 in.) long schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Dry meadows, meadows, (dry) meadows, pastures, slash-and-burn forests, river banks, banks, yards, wasteland.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Burnet saxifrage’s original habitat was coastal regions and sloping shores, and inland in dry broad-leaved forests and rocky slopes. It has also made itself at home in man-made meadows as far north as the Arctic Circle. The ease with which the species settles in to areas that are affected by people can perhaps be partly explained by its original use: its seeds and young leaves were used in the kitchen as a seasoning. The sharp, burning flavour of the root on the other hand has been used to strengthen the stomach and as an expectorant, and it has been cooked up as a cough medicine too.

Like many other species that favour culturally-influenced areas, burnet saxifrage reflects the history of the country: plants that grow in Finland are quite different from central European plants, whose stem is only hairy at the base. These kinds of plants seem to be in the south-west of Finland – perhaps especially descendants of cultivated burnet saxifrage. Otherwise, these kinds of plants have probably arrived during the Second World War. Finnish plants are usually either glabrous or hairy, with eastern Finnish plants being hairier than average.

Burnet saxifrage is one of the last of the most common Carrot family plants in Finland to flower and sometimes still provide nutrition for flies as late as September. The fruit ripens quickly before the winter comes, and the stem remains erect throughout the winter so that the seeds can spread on the wind across the frozen or snow-covered land more easily than they could in summer.

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

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