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    Walk a familiar trail at a snail's pace and you will find the tiny delights of this world. The species shown on this page are only for those snails who search. Finding, studying, and appreciating these species reminds us of the enormous variety of life on Earth and our frightening power to destroy this life -- or wonderful opportunity to protect and enjoy it. Whether we cut timber, pick wildflowers, cut across switchback trails -- its all the same: we don't really understand how much we are destroying.

     Linnaeus named the Saxifraga genus in 1753.

This is a native species.

Saxifraga adscendens
Saxifraga adscendens.  Synonyms: Muscaria adscendens.  (Wedge-leaf Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Alpine. Rocky areas.  Summer.
Placer Gulch, July 20, 2013.

Saxifraga adscendens is as tiny as the other Saxifrage species shown on this page, and it shares their preference for alpine rocky, moist areas.

Plants typically are no more than 3 inches tall, with densely glandular and often red-tinged stems. Stems are often single but under the best conditions there can be, as shown here, a number of stems.  Usually sessile leaves can be entire, toothed, or shallowly lobed.

Most Saxifraga are perennials; S. adscendens is a biennial.

Saxifraga adscendens was named and described by Linnaeus in 1753 from specimens collected in the Pyrenees. "Adscendens" means "ascending" and botanically "ascending" is often used to describe a stem which curves outward and then upward from its base.

Click for the meaning of "Saxifraga".

Saxifraga adscendens

Saxifraga adscendens

Saxifraga adscendens.  Synonyms: Muscaria adscendens.  (Wedge-leaf Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Alpine. Rocky areas.  Summer.
Placer Gulch, July 20, 2013.

The inflorescence may have from 4 to 14 flowers in a raceme. Petals are narrowed abruptly at their base ("clawed"), but the base is so deeply imbedded in the calyx that you cannot see the claw in my photographs.

Saxifraga adscendens is very similar to Saxifraga caespitosa, and that is reflected in the varied descriptions of these two species in all floras I have consulted. It does seem to be agreed on that S. caespitosa has tight clusters of lobed basal leaves and forms a mat. Its leaves are probably more deeply and narrowly lobed, its upper stem leaves are often quite reduced in size (often bract-like), and its flower petals are not clawed.

 

This is a native species.

Saxifraga cernua
Saxifraga cernua (Nodding Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Alpine.  Rocky areas.  Summer.
Cinnamon Pass, August 1, 2007.

This species is quickly distinguished from the others on this page by the bulblets along the stem below the flower. There are also often bulblets in the basal leaf axils. Reproduction occurs mostly from the bulblets, rarely from seeds, but also occurs from the fibrous root system -- thus there will often be several plants near each other because they sprout from the roots. Leaves are distinctively cute.

Linnaeus named this species in 1753 from a specimen he collected in Lapland in 1732. "Cernua" means "nodding" and is often used to describe the orientation of the flower. Perhaps Linnaeus' flower specimens did nod; ours don't. One source indicates that the name was given because the seed-head nods from the weight of the seeds.

 

Saxifraga cernua
Saxifraga cernua (Nodding Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Alpine.  Rocky areas.  Summer.
Cinnamon Pass, August 1, 2007.

Note the hairy stems and bulblets along the stem. Compare these characteristics with S. adscendens (above) and S. hyperborea (below).

 

This is a native species.

Saxifraga hyperborea
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas. Summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 14, 2006.

The plants shown in the photographs at left and below have been given a number of different names and have even been considered two distinct species.  These plants are part of the Saxifraga rivularis complex and 2006 genetic research by Jorgensen et al. (Taxonomy and Evolutionary Relationships in the Saxifraga rivularis Complex ) provides a new base for separating the species. Jorgensen's work shows that S. rivularis (often previously thought to be present in the central and southern Rocky Mountains) is a circumpolar arctic-alpine plant not present in the Rocky Mountains of the lower 48 states. The Rocky Mountain species is Saxifraga hyperborea, shown here.

This minute and lovely plant has very narrow stems with few tiny leaves surmounting long-petioled basal leaves.  Saxifraga hyperborea is often found in clusters tucked into moist, rocky crevices.

Saxifraga hyperborea and S. cernua (shown above) are very similar but S. hyperborea does not have bulblets. Also notice that the stems of S. hyperborea are glabrous or nearly so and the stems of S. cernua are glandular pubescent. Habitat is very similar for the two species: subalpine and alpine cool, shady, moist rocky areas, shady rock crevices, and snow beds.

Robert Brown named and described Saxifraga hyperborea in 1823 from a specimen collected by James Ross on Melville Island, Canada, in 1819.

Saxifraga hyperborea variety debilis
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas. Summer.
Stony Pass, July 17, 2010.

Saxifraga rivularis
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas. Summer.
Pass Creek Trail, June 22, 2012.

Flowers are on long pedicels.

Saxifraga rivularis
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas.  Summer.
Spiller-Helmet Ridge. August 9, 2005.

Saxifraga hyperborea sends out roots that sprout new plants and thus even though individual plants are tiny, its cluster of scalloped leaves and numerous white flowers attract attention -- if you are a slow-moving hiker with wide open eyes.

Look for these plants in moist, shady, rocky areas and along alpine rivulets. The dainty white bell flowers often nod from atop slender stems which usually have a few leaves reduced in size.  Notice the similarity of the leaves of the species shown on this page.  Also compare these plants with the yellow-flowered Saxifraga flagellaris.

Saxifraga rivularis
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas.  Summer.
Spiller-Helmet Ridge. August 9, 2005.

Saxifraga rivularis
Saxifraga hyperborea. Synonyms: Saxifraga rivularis, Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga debilis.  (Pygmy Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Rocky areas.  Summer.
Left: Pass Creek Trail, June 22, 2012.
Below: U.S. Basin, August 9, 2017.

As the photographs above and to the left indicate, Saxifraga rivularis is a tiny plant that loves moist rock crevices.

The photograph below gives you an even better idea of how tiny this plant is, how difficult it is to find it, and what a cute delight it is.

Saxifraga rivularis

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Saxifraga adscendens

Range map for Saxifraga adscendens

Range map for Saxifraga cernua

Saxifraga rivularis

Range map for Saxifraga hyperborea