Saturday, April 2, 2016

Golden Saxifrage: alternate- or opposite-leaved?

There are some spring woodland wild flowers that are so common and widespread that they are barely noticed amongst the showier species like primroses, bluebells and wood anemones. One such is golden saxifrage   .........

..... seen here growing beside Thorsgill near Egglestone Abbey in Teesdale.

Initially I thought this is the very common opposite-leaved golden saxifrage but when I posted this picture on Twitter one keen-eyed observer, @Feldbotanik, pointed out that at least some of these plants are the much rarer alternate-leaved golden saxifrage, which I have never seen before. Both species sometimes grow together. I must go back for a closer look!

This is usually the first of the woodland wild flowers to bloom and when it does it really lights up the shady, stream-side habitat that it favours. It creeps across the surface of boulders and fallen trees, forming a dense mat of flowers.

If you search through wild flower books they'll have almost nothing to say about this near-ubiquitous plant apart from a general description of the species and its habitat, despite the fact that it grows almost everywhere except the intensely farmed eastern counties of England. 

There seems to be no folklore and herbal medicine attached to it and it only has two local names (according to Geoffrey Grigson's The Englishman's Flora) - creeping Jenny (in Sussex) and buttered eggs (in Wiltshire). 

Grigson also mentions that in the Vosges it is eaten as a salad under the name of cresson de roche, but apart from that no one seems to have anything much to say about it.

Its flowers are, though, a very welcome sight in the earliest days of spring. They are surrounded by leafy bracts, but ....

... the actual flowers are very small. There are 8 stamens but no petals - those yellow, rounded petal-like structures are sepals. A small pool of nectar, which you can see glistening here, collects in the centre of the flower and attracts the attention of fly pollinators as soon as they emerge in spring.


  1. Sometimes we overlook the common things. The golden saxifrage looks beautiful- it is so uncommon here.

    1. It really does look like burnished gold in the spring sunshine


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