S a x i f r a g a c e a e


The nice thing about Saxifrages is that they grow in nice places. The tough thing about them is that they can be very rare and hard to find — like the specimen on the LEFT. We have raided the archive again and most of these pictures come from the Sligo uplands with two species that grow at lower levels. RIGHT A section of the Dartry Mountains between Manorhamilton and the Sea where plants  like the Alpine Saxifrage occur.
Yellow Saxifrage (Saxifraga aizoides) Perhaps the most beautiful of Irish Saxifrages but not the rarest, though it is uncommon. This one was photographed on a limestone pinnacle in north Leitrim
Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides) A spreading species with elongated linear leaves many with 3-pointed as they mature. The 5 petaled blooms are big and intensely white yellow centres and bright yellow pollen.
Rue-leaved Saxifraga (Saxifraga tridactylites). A recent photo (April 2017) as this hardy annual as it starts to appear scattered over an abandoned quarry or gravel driveways. This is one of two low altitude saxifrages listed here. Common, sticky and reddish with 3-lobed leaves.
Golden Saxifrage BELOW (Chyrsoplenium oppositifolium) This very modest — often overlooked plant — is another low altitude perennial carper forming Saxifrage of wet broadleaved (and coniferous) woodlands. This is an intriguing plant being almost missed in the early Spring where it forms a widespread mat on suitable soils, often only being replaced as Bluebells and Wild Garlic take over. Its success in rapidly covering a forest floor must be something to do with it being a perennial plant and the speed with which secondary flowering stems develop from earlier flowers.
LEFT:   1. Fringed Sandwort  (Arenaria ciliata) Not a Saxifrage but, like the Alpine Saxifrage (Above), possibly an Ice Age survivor. A plant with stunning association to this part of the world as can be seen from an interesting article The Gorey Guardian published in 2012 [MORE]. It claims that this is another species that may have survived on a Sligo upland near the Atlantic during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago. This photograph was taken 8 years ago… a mere minute in the history of this species. An amazing story — do have a read of it — but this is also a very beautiful plant, as are all these arctic survivors. It is a member of the Pink family with larger more perfect flowers than the saxifrages. It is also of the same family as the Moss Campion (see below) which is also a specialty of these mountains. Apparently DNA testing indicates that these species have been present in this location in the Darty Mountains for up to 150,000 years!
2. Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) Like the Fringed Sandwort the Moss Companion (BELOW) is another extremely rare plant in Ireland with a history going back to the Ice Age when the Sligo coast was milder than many mountain areas due to the proximity of the ocean. A very attractive high mountain Campion found only in NW Ireland and Scottish Highlands. The flowers are quite delicate and appear from a cushion of fine pointed leaves. Can be a plant of very high mountains but seems to thrive at a lower level near the sea as in Sligo.
Click on Images where you see this symbol. WildWest records and celebrates Nature, Habitat, Scenery on the western seaboard of Europe bringing you reports on how our wild communities (plants, animals, insects etc) are surviving in Ireland and other western extremes. Re-Published November 2020 1400px site. Designed for Desktop or Laptop…
Saxifrages and other Mountain Plants: 2016 study A revision and refreshing of a page from the early days of WildWest.ie  This is substantially our observations from 2016, with other species added as we go… Our colour background reflects the often neglected Yellow Saxifrage (shown BELOW)
Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis) Pride of place in the Saxifrages must go to the elegant simple and stalwart Alpine Saxifrage. This is a rare plant in Scotland and very rare plant in Ireland. It is found solely in the highest mountains in most circumpolar countries, Ireland being the most southerly. The National Botanic Gardens (Glasnevin) have studied its distribution; this species seems to occur here as ‘an ancient refuge of arctic plants?’ These photographs were taken in June and the stem goes on to be 10 - 12 cm high with up to a dozen large white flowers with two bright red styles (starting to emerge in picture on Left) which are fertilised by other specimens.

Habitat Forming plants…

The Saxifrages are interesting oddities and some are very significant rarities that provide a valuable function in

making us aware that (for some reason) these elusive, alpine, or axiophytes survive here on the margins of ex-

tinction. It is our hope to save them from extinction by acknowledging their presence in high and lonely places.

By and large Saxifrages and some other mountain dwelling rarities, like the orchid, Lesser Twayblade, are not

habitat forming. This is left to more mundane widespread plants like Sphagnum spp, Heathers, and Fraochains.

The humble Golden Saxifrage is all over the place, however, both in Coniferous and Broad-leaved Woodlands. It is the early precursor of that carpet of Bluebells, Wild Garlic, Lords and Ladies that coat woodland floors before the leaves shade the ground. We suspect this species contributes it its own way. It grows very fast, has multiple flower after flower, and forms a dense photosynthesing mass of ground cover in the early part of each year releasing nutrients into the soil.

Other Mountain Plants: Crassulaceae

Roseroot (Sedum rosea)
A dramatic plant of steep cliffs and high mountains. It is fond of vertical cracks and gullies in Limestone, hence its occurrence in the Dartry Mountains. Almost entirely found on near vertical cliff faces exposed to the west. It is best seen by safely descending a gully and peering around the corner. Rare in Ireland but found fairly easily in Sligo, Donegal and Leitrim and other north westerly locations with tall bedded limestone cliffs. A big plant with large flowers in June.

Three Members of the Pink family: Caryophyllaceae

3. Red Campion Silene dioica Not particularly rare but largely absent from the Midlands. It has some of the habits of the other Campions but also occurs on rich waste land and open woodlands and banks and sea cliffs. We have found it mostly in Lough Key Forest park alongside a river so it was nice to find it on the cliffs around Ben Bulben.
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) A common plant and one which is also a Saxifrage. This is a dominant plant of lakeside fore-shores and is a species we look on as an indicator of possible occurrence of the orchid Spiranthes romanzoffiana. We know this as an indicator species for the orchid as it occurs in the same place, broad gently sloping lake shores be they stony or grassy. They are very common, easy to see, and their needs must be the same as Spiranthes. However, this plant remains after the orchid is gone. Why? Well this plant produces multiple long stems  and if one is broken it will grow another. Orchids, on the other hand, only produce one flowering head each year and if that is damaged so too is the survival of the species on our lake shores. This leads to a situation where many shores around L. Conn/Cullin have many ideal shorelines with many herbs flowering — but the rare Spiranthes orchid has disappeared due to alteration of the shore or grazing along the narrow strip of shore that the orchid needs to grow and multiply on.

Cabbage family Brassicaceae

Hairy Rock Cress (Arabis hirsuta) Not a mountain specialty but there was something about the placement of this plain flower, high up on a vertical cliff far away from dunes or farm land, that called for attention. It is a plant that likes outcrops, has been recorded in Scotland up to 1000m. and it is, like all the other plants here, a plant of alkaline (limestone) rocks. Its hairy leaves are very distinctive and these can appear in among beds of Moss Campion, Mossy Saxifrage and other species typical of the Dartry Mountains where it is relatively common.
Another Sedum…  Crassulaceae White Sedum, (Sedum album) aka White Stonecrop We attach this plant to out list for comparison with the much larger Roseroot (ABOVE). They belong to the same genus and this is the species of Stonecrop widely found on stone walls throughout the country, frequently as an escape from someone’s beloved Rockery where this plant has gone wild.
It is a wild but rare plant and the photograph (RIGHT) shows a very large, probably native, occurrence of it covering a large part of an old Crannog (Crann óg meaning ‘Little Tree’) and that and the sedum are the main cover to this day. LEFT The site is L. Gara, Co. Roscommon and the Crannog shown LEFT is at the edge of a large shallow lake prone to expansion over low lying shores. These structures of loose, often, limestone boulders were designed to protect animals and people from Winter floods.
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