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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.

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.

Saxifraga adscendens was named and described by Linnaeus in 1753 from specimens collected in the Pyrenees.

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.

 

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.

 

Saxifraga hyperborea
Saxifraga rivularis. Synonym: Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga hyperborea 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 are considered two distinct species by Bill Weber.  However, national plant authority John Kartesz (the ultimate authority for all plant names on this web site) considers them to be one species, Saxifraga rivularis.

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

S. rivularis and S. cernua are very similar but S. rivularis does not have bulblets and it has two to 5 flowers per stem whereas S. cernua typically has just one flower per stem.

In 1864 George Engelmann named this species Saxifraga debilis (from a specimen collected by Harbour and Hall on their famous Colorado collecting expedition of 1862); Engelmann renamed it Saxifraga cernua variety debilis in 1872; Löve, Löve, and Kapoor renamed it Saxifraga hyperborea subspecies debilis in 1971, and the most recent taxonomy combines it with Saxifraga rivularis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saxifraga rivularis 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 (hence its specific epithet, "rivularis", and one of its common names, "Alpine Brook Saxifrage").  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.

Linnaeus named this species in 1753.  It is circumboreal and is found throughout the western United States and throughout Canada. 

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

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

Saxifraga rivularis
Saxifraga rivularis. Synonym: Saxifraga rivularis variety debilis, Saxifraga hyperborea 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 rivularis