Saxifraga cernua, more colloquially known as the ‘drooping saxifrage’ is a common alpine plant across the Arctic.
They are found all over the high northern hemisphere, from the year-round Siberian permafrost, to the basaltic northern climes of Iceland – and every icy plain in between. This flower is my all-time favourite.
Striking white petals against a snowy white backdrop. Red shoots that clash marvellously with the monotonous black and white Arctic colours, a reminder of spring in the depths of winter. Their isolation, sitting at high altitudes alone – watching over their stormy domain; witness to every blizzard. They are magical.
The drooping saxifrage live on top of alpine cliffs, and at high altitudes – protected within rocky outcrops. They like moist and mossy places, on ledges or in snow beds. In 1975, the drooping saxifrage became a UK protected species under the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act.
You would not think that the UK could support such a cold-loving specimen. However, on top of Scotland’s highest mountains, where short summers and arctic-like winters still take place – you will find them. A white and red gem, amongst the ptarmigans and darting mountain hares.
Amazingly, there are very small populations of these alpine plants living in Scotland, that are existing at the very limit of their southern latitudinal range. They do not grow in England, Wales or Ireland.
The drooping saxifrage is an exceedingly rare plant and you are only likely to find one in a rocky crevice on top of ranges such as Ben Nevis, Ben Lawers, and other tall mountains around Glen Coe. This far south, they can only exist at these altitudes.
In an attempt capture the magic of the drooping saxifrage with words, I wrote a poem which includes my personal description of the flower:
In Scotland’s garden, highland haze,
Stands an alpine plant; nodding kindly
In faerie glen, a winter’s child – of the high north.
In winter months, the sun is rare,
This arctic flower; reflects light brightly
White petals, a floral crystal – making tepid rays sparkle.
Drooping now, to mark your leave,
A welcome visitor must always part.
On mountains rooted; solitary
But sentinel – the summit’s heart.
Writing this poem was very enjoyable as it is always fun to write about what you love – in my case, nature. This flower, for me, truly is the heart of the summit – cosied up within a mountainous crevice, shielded from the elements.
Unfortunately, the UK’s population of drooping saxifrage is not safe. With warmer summers becoming more frequent and average temperatures rising annually, these already vulnerable plants are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.
There is no doubt that anthropogenic climate change is partially responsible. In this way, the future of the drooping saxifrage in Great Britain is hanging in the balance – but if we all change our daily lives to reduce our carbon footprint even slightly, they might still be saved for future generations to enjoy. That would be a triumph.
I encourage you to go outside and search for your favourite flower; you know mine. Perhaps you are awed by the yellow glow of a springtime daffodil, or enchanted by the class and elegance of a rose.
A conscious appreciation of the floral landscape can transform the simplest of dog-walks or strolls home from school. No longer does one look down at the grey pavement or the tarmacked driveways. No. You can see crocuses with deep hues of lilac, pink and blue. You see silver white snowdrops, nodding in the sun.