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)

      • Perennial herbs
      • 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
      • 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 attached to a floral cup (hypanthium)
          • Petals are white, yellow, or pink, and sometimes toothed or fringed
          • Usually 2 pistils (female flower parts), which may be partly fused
        • Ovary superior (attached above other flower parts) to inferior (attached below 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
          • 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.

            Encyclopedia Britannica. 2016, Jan. 29. Saxifragaceae.

              Idaho Mountain Wildflowers. 2012, Jun. 27. Saxifrage Family.

              Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family