Saxifrage Family

California Saxifrage © KKorbholz

Saxifragaceae (saks-ih-frag-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Perennial herbs
  • Often rounded leaves in a basal rosette
  • Usually 5-petaled flowers
  • Hypanthium present

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Perennial herbs
  • Leaves
    • Generally in a basal rosette
      • Any stem leaves are alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Usually wide and rounded; sometimes succulent
    • Often with a scalloped or coarsely-toothed edge
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in a variety of forms
    • Usually bisexual, usually radially-symmetrical, star- or bell-shaped flowers
    • Usually 5 sepals (usually green outer flower parts) and 5 separate petals
      • Petals are white, yellow, or pink, and sometimes toothed or fringed
      • Usually 2 pistils (female flower parts), which may be partly fused
    • Sepals, petals, and stamens (male flower parts) fused at base into a cup-like structure (hypanthium)
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts) to inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule with many small seeds (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 600 species
    • Found especially in northern temperate and cold climates
    • Most grow in moist, shaded woodlands
      • The Pacific Northwest has the greatest number of species in the world (Emily-Bell)
    • Includes saxifrages (Micranthes species), woodland stars (Lithophragma species), sugar scoops (Tiarella species), alumroots (Heuchera species), fringe cups (Tellima species), and astilbes (Astilbe species)
  • Some species, e.g. coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea), are cultivated as ornamentals
  • Scientific and common name from the included genus Saxifraga, from the Latin saxum, “rock,” and frango, “to break”
    • Saxifraga species are renowned for the ability to thrive in the crevices of exposed, alpine crags, thus appearing to break rock (Encyclopædia Britannica 2016)
    • Pliny (23 AD-79 AD) wrote in his Natural History that the name referred to the supposed ability of some species to break up kidney and bladder stones (Idaho 2012)
  • Represented by 3 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Emily-Bell. Saxifragaceae – Saxifrage family. Better Learning through Botany.

Encyclopædia Britannica. 2016, Jan. 29. Saxifragaceae. Britannica.

Idaho Mountain Wildflowers. 2012, Jun. 27. Saxifrage family, Saxifragaceae.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family