Saxifraga oppositifolia

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Saxifraga oppositifolia
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Saxifragales
Family: Saxifragaceae
Genus: Saxifraga
Species: S. oppositifolia
Binomial name
Saxifraga oppositifolia
Saxifraga oppositifolia - MHNT

Saxifraga oppositifolia, the purple saxifrage or purple mountain saxifrage,[1] is a species of edible plant that is very common all over the high Arctic and also some high mountainous areas further south, including northern Britain, the Alps and the Rocky Mountains. It is even known to grow on Kaffeklubben Island in north Greenland,[2] at 83°40'N, the most northerly plant locality in the world.

It grows in all kinds of cold temperate to arctic habitats, from sea level up to 1000 m, in many places colouring the landscape. It is a popular plant in alpine gardens, though difficult to grow in warm climates.


It is a low-growing, densely or loosely matted plant growing to 3–5 cm high, with somewhat woody branches of creeping or trailing habit close to the surface. The leaves are small, rounded, scale-like, opposite in 4 rows, with ciliated margins. The flowers are solitary on short stalks, petals purple or lilac, much longer than the calyx lobes. It is one of the very first spring flowers, continuing to flower during the whole summer in localities where the snow melts later. The flowers grow to about 0.5 inches in diameter.


It serves as the territorial flower of Nordland county in Norway, Nunavut in Canada,[3] and the county flower of County Londonderry in Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

The flowers can be picked for food. The petals are edible. They are bitter at first but after about 1 second, they become sweet. They are slightly sticky. The flower is known to the Inuit people as aupilaktunnguat.[3]

In addition to being eaten by humans, the flowers of this plant may be consumed by certain animal species, such as the larvae of the cold-adapted arctic woolly bear moth.[4] In Icelandic its name is Lambagras aka "Lamb-grass" as it was frequently eaten by sheep and other farm animals.


Swiss botanist Christian Körner found the plant growing at an elevation of 4,505 metres (14,780 ft) in the Swiss alps, making it the highest elevation angiosperm in Europe.[5]

There are a few subspecies, including:

  • Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. glandulisepala Hultén – native to Alaska[6]
  • Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. oppositifolia L. – native to continental US[7]
  • Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. smalliana (Engl. & Irmsch.) Hultén – native to Alaska[8]


  1. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Saxifraga oppositifolia". 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  2. ^ "Template". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  3. ^ a b Official Flower of Nunavut, Nunavut, Canada
  4. ^ Kukal, Olga; Dawson, Todd E. (1989-06-01). "Temperature and food quality influences feeding behavior, assimilation efficiency and growth rate of arctic woolly-bear caterpillars". Oecologia. 79 (4): 526–532. doi:10.1007/BF00378671. ISSN 0029-8549.
  5. ^ "Coldest places on earth with angiosperm plant life". Alpine Botany. 121 (1): 11–22. doi:10.1007/s00035-011-0089-1.
  6. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. glandulisepala". 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  7. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. oppositifolia". 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  8. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Saxifraga oppositifolia ssp. smalliana". 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-10-25.