early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis)
St. Peter's cabbage
The botanical name "saxifrage" describes this plant's characteristic habitat:
the Latin word for "stone" is "saxum" and the Latin word for "to break" is
Micranthes virginiensis (Michx.) Small
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of early saxifrage
is Saxifraga virginiensis Michx. The name Saxifrage comes from saxum (a
rock) and frangere (to break) since this species is seen growing in the rocks,
it was once thought that it would break the rocks. Likewise the natural
assumption is that this plant would also cure kidney and gall stones, with
it's powerful medicine. There is no evidence that this plant does offer a cure.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This is a native herbacious plant which grows to heights of from 4
to 12 inches (10-30 cm.). The undersides of the early saxifrage are often
purplish in color. A tint of purple can be seen in some of the leaves. This
plant looks unusual because of what appears to be flower buds growing
from the base of the flower stalk, but it is really the beginning growth of
another flower stalk. The downward facing hairs on the stalk are glandular
and secrete a sticky substance to entrap insects that try to climb up the stalk
to take the nectar; this leaves the nectar for the flying insects.
Leaves: The leaves of the early saxifrage are basal and grow in a rosette
around the hairy stem. The coarsely toothed or lobed leaves are wedge-
shaped or oval. Leaves can reach 8cm in length (3 inches) long. In general,
there are no leaves on the stems; however, there may be a few small leaves
on the fuzzy stem.
Flowers: Each flower has 5 petals, 10 yellow stamens, and 2 pistils and
are up to 0.6cm wide (0.25 inches). They are white and fragrant. The flow-
ers are 1/4 inch wide, in loose, branched clusters.
Fruit/Seeds: Fruit is a green to purplish capsule containing numerous tiny
seeds in vertical rows. When 2 carpels are present, they are angled so the
bases are nearly joined with the tips spreading away from each other (di-
Roots: Insufficient information.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Early saxifrage propogates itself by
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include dry woods, upland forest, rocky
areas, rocky slopes, ledges and bluffs, often in sandstone.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Early saxifrage prefers shade to partial
shade. It grows in dry areas but is tolerant of moist conditions so long as
the soil is well drained. It is usually found in soil that is gravelly or
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Blooms first appear in early spring and
continue into mid spring (March through May).
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Early saxifrage is a species pri- marily of
the eastern United States and Canada. It naturally occurs from Georgia to
New Brunswick and west as far as Oklahoma, although is generally does
not go farther west than the states immediately bordering the western side
of the Mississippi River. In Canada, it occurs from Quebec to Manitoba (it
is not prevalent in all the Canadian maritime provinces). It does not natural-
ly occur in the southwest, Great Plains region, Rocky Mountain states, far
western and northwestern states or provinces.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: In early spring the young leaves may be
harvested and used in salads. They are somewhat tasteless, so they offer
a good addition when using plants with a bitter taste. The leaves are also
high in Vitamin C, giving one a good reason to harvest them.
It is used in rock gardens, shade gardens, and woodland gardens.
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