Purple Saxifrage - Saxifraga oppositifolia
|Purple saxifrage, Saxifraga oppositifolia.|
Purple saxifrage, Saxifraga oppositifolia, a widespread and easily recognized species, is one exception to the leaf rule: its leaves are opposite. This plant is among the first to bloom during the arctic summer, displaying beautiful, dark purple flowers, and it usually grows in dense mats with crowded, grey-green, overlapping leaves.
General Information and Anatomy
The presence of minute, rigid hairs on its leaf margins provides purple saxifrage with protection from drying, arctic winds – the hairs function to hold snow against the plant until a small snowbank can form to block the wind.
Many arctic species have evergreen leaves – an important adaptation to the short growing season. Purple saxifrage, Saxifraga oppositifolia, utilizes its evergreen leaves during the first days of sunshine after the long winter. This plant is so efficient that it is one of the very first to bloom in the Arctic – often in early June, even before all the snow has melted.
Purple saxifrage plays a number of roles in Northern Arctic culture. The point at which the flowers are in full bloom signals the time of year when young caribou are being born on the tundra. The flowers, which have a sweet taste, can help relieve gastric problems and are eaten in communities where berries are not abundant. The stems and leaves can also be used to make tea. Since this is such a hearty and useful plant, purple saxifrage has been named as the territorial flower of Nunavut.