Saxifraga is the largest genus in the family Saxifragaceae, containing about 440 species of holarctic perennial plants, known as saxifrages or rockfoils. The Latin word saxifraga means literally "stone-breaker", from Latin saxum ("rock" or "stone") + frangere ("to break"). It is usually thought to indicate a medicinal use for treatment of urinary calculi (known as kidney stones), rather than breaking rocks apart.
The genera Saxifragopsis (strawberry saxifrage), and Saxifragella are sometimes included in Saxifraga. In recent DNA based phylogenetic analyses of the Saxifragaceae, the former sections Micranthes and Merkianae are shown to be more closely related to the Boykinia and Heuchera clades, and the most recent floras separate these groups as the genus Micranthes.
Most saxifrages are smallish plants whose leaves grow close to the ground, often in a rosette. The leaves typically have a more or less incised margin; they may be succulent, needle-like and/or hairy, reducing evaporation.
The inflorescence or single flower clusters rise above the main plant body on naked stalks. The small actinomorphic hermaphrodite flowers have five petals and sepals and are usually white, but red to yellow in some species. As in other primitive eudicots, some of the 5 or 10 stamens may appear petal-like. and it lives tundra ecosystem.
Saxifrages are typical inhabitants of Arctic–alpine ecosystems, and are hardly ever found outside the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere; most members of this genus are found in subarctic climates. A good number of species grow in glacial habitat, such as S. biflora which can be found some 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea level in the Alps, or the East Greenland Saxifrage (S. nathorstii). The genus is also abundant in the Eastern and Western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows. Though the archetypal saxifrage is a small plant huddling between rocks high up on a mountain, many species do not occur in such habitat and are larger (though still rather delicate) plants found on wet meadows.
Numerous species and cultivars of saxifrage are cultivated as ornamental garden plants, valued particularly as groundcover or as cushion plants in rock gardens and alpine gardens. Many require alkaline or neutral soil to thrive.
S. × urbium (London pride), a hybrid between Pyrenean saxifrage (S. umbrosa) and St. Patrick's cabbage (S. spathularis), is commonly grown as an ornamental plant. Another horticultural hybrid is Robertsoniana saxifrage (S. × geum), derived from kidney saxifrage (S. hirsuta) and Pyrenean saxifrage. Some wild species are also used in gardening. Cambridge University Botanic Garden hosts the United Kingdom's national collection of saxifrages.
Purple Saxifrage (S. oppositifolia) is a popular floral emblem. It is the territorial flower of Nunavut (Canada) and the county flower of County Londonderry in the UK. Known as rødsildre ("red saxifrage") in Norway, it also is the county flower of Nordland. It is on the seal of Fitchburg State University, whose motto is "Perseverantia" in reference to the rock-breaking abilities of the plant over time. Tsukuba in Japan has as its city flower hoshizaki-yukinoshita (Katakana: ホシザキユキノシタ), the aptera form of Creeping Saxifrage (S. stolonifera). The leaves of the Japanese variety "yukinoshita" (literally "Under the snow") can also been eaten, and is consumed at least within the large southern island of Kyushu. It is prepared by frying the younger succulent leaves in tempura batter.
Charles Darwin – erroneously believing Saxifraga to be allied to the sundew family (Droseraceae) – suspected the sticky-leaved Round-leaved saxifrage (S. rotundifolia), Rue-leaved saxifrage (S. tridactylites) and Pyrenean saxifrage (S. umbrosa) to be protocarnivorous plants, and conducted some experiments whose results supported his observations, but the matter has apparently not been studied since his time.
In literature, saxifrages do not figure prominently – that is, outside the literary short story by Walter Wangerin, called Saxifrage, the Break-Rock, or scientific writing such as the studies of Adolf Engler or the landmark The Structure and Biology of Arctic Flowering Plants. White Mountain saxifrage (S. paniculata) is discussed in Nicholas Culpeper's 1652 herbal The English Physitian. Well-known references to saxifrages in literature are:
- In William Carlos Williams' poem "A Sort of a Song", Williams refers to his idea of perception (to see through the metaphorical rock, see into the essence of the object, "no ideas but in things") when he writes Invent! Saxifrage is my flower that splits the rocks.
- In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, the character Sax Russell – a physicist sent to Mars as part of Earth's first colony attempt on that planet – is named after this plant. There are several references to the saxifrage genus, and Robinson uses the plant's common name "stonebreaker" and descriptions of the flower to describe aspects of Russell's personality.
- In The Song of Bernadette, Franz Werfel described Saint Bernadette Soubirous as eating saxifrage in response to a request from Our Lady of Lourdes to "eat of the plants" near where she was about to dig for the Lourdes Spring. The real Saint Bernadette did eat plants and said "the lady" had asked her to. Several devotional writers identified the plants as saxifrage, and the location of the Lourdes Grotto, in a huge outcropping in the Pyrenees, makes it plausible.
- In D.H. Lawrence's' novel "Sons and Lovers," Lawrence refers to saxifrage flowers and auriculas in the front gardens of miners' cottages near Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire (see Chapter I, paragraph 7).
- In Rene Daumal's fragmentary notes at the end of his incomplete novel Mount Analogue, it appears as a mountain flower typical of that mythical Alpine region.
- Saxifraga adscendens – Ascending saxifrage
- Saxifraga aizoides – Yellow Mountain saxifrage, Yellow saxifrage
- Saxifraga aizoon – Aizoon rockfoil
- Saxifraga algisii
- Saxifraga anadyrensis
- Saxifraga androsacea
- Saxifraga aquatica
- Saxifraga arachnoidea
- Saxifraga x arendsi – Mossy saxifrage, Mossy rockfoil
- Saxifraga aspera L. – Rough saxifrage, Stiff-haired saxifrage
- Saxifraga biflora
- Saxifraga bronchialis L. – Matte saxifrage
- Saxifraga bryoides L. – Mossy saxifrage
- Saxifraga caesia – Blue green saxifrage
- Saxifraga callosa Sm. – Limestone saxifrage
- Saxifraga canaliculata
- Saxifraga carpatica
- Saxifraga cernua – Drooping saxifrage, Nodding saxifrage, Bulblet saxifrage
- Saxifraga cervicornis
- Saxifraga cespitosa – Tufted saxifrage
- Saxifraga ciliata
- Saxifraga cochlearis
- Saxifraga columnaris Schmalh.
- Saxifraga corsica
- Saxifraga cotyledon L. – Great alpine rockfoil, Greater evergreen saxifrage
- Saxifraga cuneifolia – Shield-leaved saxifrage, Lesser London pride
- Saxifraga cymbalaria – Celandine saxifrage
- Saxifraga decipiens
- Saxifraga dinnikii Schmalh.
- Saxifraga eschscholtzii – Cushion saxifrage
- Saxifraga exarata – Furrowed saxifrage
- Saxifraga flagellaris Willd. ex Sternb. – Whiplash saxifrage, Spider Saxifrage, "spider plant"
- Saxifraga florulenta
- Saxifraga forbesei
- Saxifraga fortunei Hook.f.
- Saxifraga × geum – Robertsoniana saxifrage (S. hirsuta x S. umbrosa)
- Saxifraga globulifera – Gibraltar saxifrage
- Saxifraga granulata L. – Meadow saxifrage, Bulbous saxifrage, Fair maids of France (type species)
- Saxifraga grisebachii - Engleria saxifrage
- Saxifraga groenlandica
- Saxifraga hederacea
- Saxifraga hirculus L. – Yellow marsh saxifrage, Marsh saxifrage, "bog saxifrage"
- Saxifraga hirsuta – Kidney saxifrage
- Saxifraga hyperborea – Pygmy saxifrage
- Saxifraga hypnoides – Mossy saxifrage, Dovedale moss
- Saxifraga juniperifolia
- Saxifraga korshinskii Kom.
- Saxifraga lactea Turcz.
- Saxifraga longifolia – Pyrenean saxifrage
- Saxifraga maderensis – Madeira saxifrage, Madeira breakstone
- Saxifraga mertensiana – Mertens' saxifrage
- Saxifraga montana
- Saxifraga moschata – Musky saxifrage, Mossy saxifrage
- Saxifraga moschata ssp. basaltica
- Saxifraga muscoides
- Saxifraga mutata
- Saxifraga nathorstii (Dusén) Hayek – East Greenland saxifrage
- Saxifraga nipponica
- Saxifraga oppositifolia – Purple saxifrage, Purple mountain saxifrage
- Saxifraga osloensis Knaben - Oslo saxifrage, a natural hybrid species
- Saxifraga paniculata – Lifelong saxifrage, White mountain saxifrage
- Saxifraga petraea
- Saxifraga platysepala (= S. flagellaris auct. non Willd.) – Broadsepal saxifrage
- Saxifraga porophylla
- Saxifraga redofskii – Many-flower saxifrage
- Saxifraga rivularis – Alpine brook saxifrage, Brook saxifrage, Highland saxifrage
- Saxifraga rosacea – Irish saxifrage
- Saxifraga rotundifolia L. – Round-leaved saxifrage
- Saxifraga roylei
- Saxifraga rudolphiana
- Saxifraga rufopilosa – Redhair saxifrage
- Saxifraga sancta
- Saxifraga serpyllifolia – Thymeleaf saxifrage
- Saxifraga sibirica – Siberian saxifrage
- Saxifraga spathularis – Saint Patrick's cabbage
- Saxifraga stolonifera – Creeping saxifrage, Strawberry saxifrage, Creeping rockfoil, Strawberry begonia, Strawberry geranium, Aaron's beard
- Saxifraga subverticillata
- Saxifraga taygetea
- Saxifraga taylorii – Taylor's saxifrage
- Saxifraga tenella
- Saxifraga tombeanensis
- Saxifraga tricuspidata Rottb. – Prickly saxifrage
- Saxifraga tridactylites – Rue-leaved saxifrage, "nailwort"
- Saxifraga trifurcata
- Saxifraga × urbium – London pride (S. spathularis × S. umbrosa)
- Saxifraga umbrosa – Pyrenean saxifrage
- Saxifraga vandelli
- Saxifraga wahlenbergii
Formerly placed here
- Astilboides tabularis, as S. tabularis
- Bergenia crassifolia, as S. cordifolia, S. crassifolia
- Bergenia pacumbis, as S. ligulata, S. pacumbis
- Bergenia purpurascens, as S. delavayi, S. purpurascens
- Boykinia jamesii, as S. jamesii
- Boykinia occidentalis (Coastal Brookfoam), as S. elata
- Boykinia richardsonii (Richardson's Brookfoam), as S. richardsonii
- Darmera peltata (Indian Rhubarb), as S. peltata
- Leptarrhena pyrolifolia, as S. pyrolifolia
- Luetkea pectinata (Partridgefoot), as S. pectinata
- Micranthes, including:
- Mukdenia rossii (Mukdenia), as S. rossii
Other "saxifragous" plants
- Golden-saxifrages, Chrysosplenium
- Burnet-saxifrages, Pimpinella
- Pepper-saxifrage, Silaum silaus. The name "silaum" comes from the Latin word sil, which means yellow ochre. This refers to the sulphorous yellow colour of the flowers.
- Campanula saxifraga
- Celmisia saxifraga (Benth.) W.M.Curtis
- Cineraria saxifraga DC.
- Dryopteris saxifraga
- Petrorhagia saxifraga – Tunicflower
- Pimpinella saxifraga – Burnet Saxifrage
- Ptychotis saxifraga
- Saxifragopsis Small
Lesser London Pride (Saxifraga cuneifolia)
Irish Saxifrage (Saxifraga rosacea)
Prickly Saxifrage (Saxifraga tricuspidata) flowers
- "Saxifraga L". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. February 9, 2005. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
- "Saxifraga". National Plant Collections. Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
- Roger Spencer, ed. Horticultural Flora of South-Eastern Australia. UNSW Press, 2002. p. 81. ISBN 9780868401676
- D. A. Webb & R. J. Gornall (1989). Saxifrages of Europe. Christopher Helm. p. 19. ISBN 0-7470-3407-9.
- Douglas E. Soltis, Robert K. Kuzoff, Elena Conti, Richard Gornall & Keith Ferguson (1996). "matK and rbcL gene sequence data indicate that Saxifraga (Saxifragaceae) is polyphyletic". American Journal of Botany. 83 (3): 371–382. doi:10.2307/2446171.
- Flora of China
- Flora of North America
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- Ivo Novák (1980). A Field Guide in Colour to Butterflies and Moths. Octopus Books. ISBN 0-7064-1293-1.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga callosa". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga fortunei". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga 'Lutea'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga 'Minor'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga 'Rosea'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga stolonifera". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga 'Theoden'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga 'Tumbling Waters'". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Saxifraga × urbium". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- Charles Darwin (1875). "Drosophyllum – Roridula – Byblis – glandular hairs of other plants – concluding remarks on the Droseraceae". Insectivorous Plants (1st ed.). London: J. Murray. pp. 332–367.
- Umberto Quattrocchi. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms. Synonyms, and Etymology. CRC Press, 1999. p.2395-2396. ISBN 9780849326738
- Knaben, G. (1934). "Saxifraga osloensis n. sp., a tetraploid species of the Tridactylites section". Nytt Magasin for Botanikk: 117–138.
- Readers Digest Nature Lover's Library Wild Flowers of Britain, page 192, published 1988
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