Saxifraga oppositifolia  


 
 


Saxifraga oppositifolia is a low-growing, densely or loosely matted plant growing to 3–5 cm high, with somewhat woody branches of creeping or trailing habit close to the surface. The leaves are small, rounded, scale-like, opposite in 4 rows, with ciliated margins. The flowers are solitary on short stalks, petals purple or lilac, much longer than the calyx lobes. It is circumpolar in the northern hemisphere and is found at sea level in the Arctic.


Even though Saxifraga oppositifolia is found in nature up to 3,800 m it does surprisingly well in the rock garden if it is given the conditions it requires.  Not only does it have good longevity, it flowers both profusely and reliably and does not need rain protection.


Clues to the garden requirements of Saxifraga oppositifolia can be gained from observations of the plant in the mountains.  It is frequently found in exposed positions on north facing rock cliffs in shady, slightly moist conditions.  Snow tends to blow off steep cliffs during winter storms and Saxifraga oppositifolia probably does not enjoy a dry protective snow cover in the winter like many alpines.  This could explain why the plant is tolerant of wet winter conditions at sea level. The fact that Saxifraga oppositifolia grows profusely in the wild at low elevations in the Arctic is another indication of its adaptability. However it may not suit warmer continental climates.


In the rock garden, Saxifraga oppositifolia needs to be moist and shaded from the hottest midday sun in addition to the usual alpine plant requirements of good drainage, gritty soil and a coarse stone mulch.  The best position is in a north facing rock garden tucked below a large rock to provide partial shade. 



 

Saxifraga oppositifolia is not often seen in flower in the mountains of western North America as the flowers emerge soon after the snow melts.  Wilcox Pass is one of the few easily accessible locations where this beautiful Sax can be seen flowering into late July.  This may be a result of late snowmelt in the area.



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