Saxifrage Family — Saxifragaceae
|The saxifrages, Saxifraga spp., are a diverse genus.|
The saxifrage family has many representatives that inhabit alpine and arctic areas throughout the world. Their name is derived from the Latin words saxum, "rock", and frango, "to break". It gained this name because most saxifrages have roots which grow in the crevices of rock, where they appear to be the cause of the cracks. Despite this preference, several species of saxifrage only grow near freshwater in the Arctic. The arctic freshwater representatives come from three genera: the golden saxifrages, Chrysosplenium, grasses-of-Parnassus, Parnassia, and the saxifrages, Saxifraga.
General Information and Anatomy
The saxifrages, Saxifraga spp., are usually perennial and have clustered leaves. Their flowers are showy and the plants are adapted to winter seed dispersal, with stiff upright flower stems that withstand snow and high winds. Four species are commonly found near freshwater in the Arctic. Saxifraga rivularis is called brook saxifrage because its favourite habitat is along stream banks. Often growing in compact colonies, these plants group their flowers close together to facilitate fertilization and ensure successful reproduction. Another freshwater arctic representative is yellow marsh saxifrage, S. hirculus. As its name suggests, this flower grows in wetlands and marshy depressions across the Arctic. It has distinctive yellow flowers with rows of orange dots on the petals, and a single flower per stalk. S. foliosa, leafystem saxifrage, and S. tenuis, ottertail pass saxifrage, are two more saxifrages that thrive near arctic freshwater.
The golden saxifrages, also known as water carpets, Chrysoplenium spp., are widespread, low growing plants with smooth, succulent leaves and stems. They thrive in the sodden grounds of the arctic lowlands, displaying their simple green leaves and camouflaged yellow-green flowers. The northern water carpet, C. tetrandrum, is noted for its petal-less flowers and cup-shaped calyx. The calyx of northern water carpet catches rain drops with its bowl shape, causing it to tip and pour the seeds out with the water like tea from a cup. The seeds then disperse via water.
The third genus is Parnassia, the grasses-of-Parnassus. Their name is derived from Mount Parnassus in Greece, where they also occur. These perennial herbs usually have basally arranged leaves with a long, protruding stem that displays their flowers. The marsh grass-of-Parnassus, P. palustris, and Kotzebue's grass-of-Parnassus, P. kotzebuei, both have white flowers and smooth, hairless leaves. P. palustris commonly grows near brooks, whereas P. kotzebuei prefers the wet sand of arctic lakeshores.