Wildflower Wednesday — Early Saxifrage

Micranthes_virginiensis

A mature plant of early saxifrage growing
on a moss-covered rock cliff. Some of the
basal leaves are still red.

Early Saxifrage – The name “saxifrage,” from the Latin saxum meaning “rock” and frangere, “to break,” was given to members of the genus Saxifraga because many saxifrage species grow in crevices of rock cliffs where they appear to have caused the cracks in the rock. Our own early saxifrage often grows in just such places.

The plant maintains a basal rosette of leaves throughout the winter, the toothed leaves sometimes becoming bright red during that season. In spring the leaves turn green, and the flower buds at the center of the rosette open, first at ground level, and then on ever elongating and branching stems until the plant reaches 15” in height.

Saxifrages, in general, are known for their hardiness, growing in high mountains from the Alps, to the Andes, to the Himalayas. In fact, one saxifrage, Saxifraga oppositifolia, is one of only four plant species to grow in the northernmost place on earth where plants are able to grow, at 83°24’ N on Lockwood Island, off the north coast of Greenland. Recent molecular studies have resulted in almost all species of our eastern North American saxifrages being transferred to the closely related genus Micranthus; thus this species, formerly Saxifraga virginiensis, is now known as Micranthus virginiensis.