Saxifrage (Lat. saxifraga, from saxum, a rock, and frangere, to break), a plant, many species of which grow in the crevices of rocks, and were once supposed to disintegrate them; hence, according to the doctrine of signatures, the plants at one time were regarded as able to break up and remove stone in the bladder. The genus saxifraga gives its name to a family, the saxifragaceoe, which with the additions made by recent revisions is very large; it may be briefly described as very near rosacea, but generally without stipules, and with albuminous seeds. Saxifraga comprises about 160 species, found in temperate and arctic regions, and especially in alpine situations; nearly all are perennials, often with their radical leaves in a cluster; the usually small perfect flowers in a panicle or corymb, with a five-cleft calyx, five petals, and ten stamens; ovary of two more or less united carpels, with two styles, and frequently cohering with the calyx, ripening into two many-seeded follicles. The early or Virginian saxifrage (S. Virginiensis) is in all the northern states one of the earliest and most abundant of spring flowers, especially on dry hills and growing in the clefts of rocks with a warm exposure; it has a tuft of thick-ish obovate leaves, tapering into a broad petiole, and scollop-toothed on the margin; from the centre of the cluster rises a flower stem 4 to 8 in. or more high, at the top of which is a dense clustered cyme; which later becomes an open loose panicle; the difference in appearance between the plant when it begins to flower and later in the season has caused it to be described under several different names; the flowers are white, sometimes tipped with purple, and occasional specimens have double flowers.
This species extends from Canada to the mountains of Georgia and west to Oregon, blooming from April to June. Some few alpine species are found only on Mt. Washington and other northern peaks. The swamp saxifrage (S. Pennsylvanica) is a coarse species found in wet places, with flower stalks 1 to 2 ft. high, but without beauty; and several others are found in the eastern states. In the arctic and subarctic portions of the continent there are several interesting species, and some are peculiar to the Rocky mountains and other western ranges. - In England the climate allows of the cultivation of a large number of alpine species, which will not grow here on account of our hot summers. The most common in American gardens are the thick-leaved saxifrage (S. crassi-folia) from Siberia, and several similar species, with fleshy, nearly evergreen leaves, 6 to 7 in. long; in very early spring they throw up a thick stalk, about a foot high, with a large cluster of bright rose-colored flowers, which is compact at first, but spreads later into an ample cyme; they bloom so early that they are apt to be caught by late frosts.
Saxifraga umbrosa is a favorite plant in English gardens. (See London Pride.) The umbrella saxifrage (S. peltata) of California is remarkable for its large leaves, and is somewhat cultivated for its striking foliage. A species which multiplies by means of long runners (S. sarmentosa), introduced from China, is cultivated as a house plant, in window baskets, and in greenhouses, under the names of beefsteak and strawberry geranium, wandering Jew, mother of thousands, sailor plant, and various others; it has round-heart-shaped or kidney-shaped, hairy leaves, purplish below and mottled above with green and white; it forms thread-like runners, a foot or more long, at the end of which a bud and ultimately a new plant appears, which if it reaches the earth will take root, and if not will throw out other runners. The old plants throw up a stem which bears a panicle of irregular flowers, with two long hanging white petals, and three erect smaller ones, spotted with pink and yellow.
Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga Virginiensis).
Thick leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga crassifolia).