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Purple Saxifrage

Saxifraga oppositifolia

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
5 centimetres tall
Cliffs, gardens, mountains, rocky places.

Purple, 5 petals
Solitary flowers with pale purple or pink flowers, each measuring 1 or 2cm across. Flowers are short-stalked.
The fruit is a capsule.
A mat-forming, evergreen perennial flower with long trailing stems. The leaves are small and scale-like.
Other Names:
Mary's Tears, Opposite-leaved Saxifrage, Our Lady's Tears, Purple Mountain Saxifrage.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Saxifraga oppositifolia, also known as opposite-leaved saxifrage, is a perennial herbaceous plant that is native to the Arctic and subarctic regions of Europe and Asia. It is a small plant that typically grows to be only a few inches tall. It has basal leaves that are typically green to gray-green in color and they are arranged in opposite pairs. The plant produces clusters of small, white or pink flowers that bloom in spring and summer. It is often used as a ground cover or rock garden plant, and prefers well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade. Some of its common names are purple mountain saxifrage, purple saxifrage, or purple mountain flowers.


Purple Saxifrage, also known as Saxifraga oppositifolia, is a small, hardy plant that is native to arctic and alpine regions around the world. Despite its delicate appearance, this plant has adapted to survive in some of the harshest environments on Earth.

One of the most striking features of the Purple Saxifrage is its bright purple or pink flowers, which bloom in early spring, often poking through the snow. The flowers are small, measuring only a few millimeters across, but they are numerous, forming dense mats that cover the ground.

Purple Saxifrage is a low-growing plant, typically reaching only a few centimeters in height. It has fleshy, leathery leaves that grow in pairs opposite each other on the stem, giving the plant its scientific name, "oppositifolia."

Despite its diminutive size, Purple Saxifrage is an important food source for wildlife in the arctic and alpine regions where it grows. Caribou and reindeer are known to graze on the plant, and the flowers provide nectar for bees and other insects.

In addition to being an important part of the arctic and alpine ecosystem, Purple Saxifrage has also played a significant role in human cultures. In some areas, the plant has been used medicinally to treat ailments such as scurvy and rheumatism. It has also been used as a natural dye, producing shades of purple, pink, and red.

Purple Saxifrage is a remarkable plant that demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of life in harsh environments. Its vibrant flowers and hardy nature serve as a reminder of the beauty and tenacity of nature, even in the most inhospitable places on Earth.

Purple Saxifrage belongs to the Saxifragaceae family, which includes over 600 species of plants found throughout the world. The family is named after the Latin word saxifraga, which means "rock-breaker," referring to the ability of many species to grow in rocky environments.

Purple Saxifrage is well-suited for life in the arctic and alpine regions due to its ability to tolerate extreme cold, drought, and nutrient-poor soils. It is a perennial plant, meaning that it can survive for multiple years, and it reproduces both sexually through seeds and asexually through clonal growth.

In addition to being a food source for wildlife, Purple Saxifrage also provides important ecosystem services. The plant helps stabilize soil on steep slopes, preventing erosion, and its shallow roots can help prevent permafrost thaw by insulating the ground from solar radiation.

Purple Saxifrage is also an indicator species, meaning that its presence or absence can provide valuable information about the health of the surrounding ecosystem. Changes in the distribution or abundance of Purple Saxifrage can indicate shifts in temperature, moisture, or other environmental factors.

Overall, Purple Saxifrage is a fascinating and important plant that has adapted to thrive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Its hardy nature, vibrant flowers, and ecological significance make it a valuable part of our natural world.

Purple Saxifrage is a plant that has been admired for centuries for its beauty and resilience. It has been mentioned in literature, poetry, and artwork throughout history, and has been a symbol of strength and endurance.

In some cultures, Purple Saxifrage has been associated with themes of purity, faith, and devotion. For example, in the Christian tradition, the plant has been linked to the Virgin Mary, and is sometimes called "Mary's tears" or "Our Lady's tears." In Nordic mythology, the plant was associated with the goddess Freya, who was associated with love, beauty, and fertility.

Purple Saxifrage has also been used in traditional medicine in many cultures. It has been used as a remedy for coughs, colds, and respiratory infections, as well as digestive issues and skin conditions. Some studies have also suggested that Purple Saxifrage may have potential medicinal properties due to its high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Despite its many benefits, Purple Saxifrage is facing some threats from climate change and human activities. As temperatures in arctic and alpine regions continue to rise, the plant may be forced to migrate to higher elevations or face competition from other species. Human activities such as mining, grazing, and recreation can also impact the plant's habitat and overall health.

Efforts are currently underway to protect Purple Saxifrage and its habitat. Conservation efforts include limiting human activities in sensitive areas, establishing protected areas, and monitoring the distribution and abundance of the plant. By working to protect this remarkable plant, we can help ensure that it continues to thrive for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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