Native to China, Japan, and Korea, Japanese rockfoil (Saxifraga fortunei) is a small, shade-loving perennial. It grows in mountain forests and rock crevices right up to 3,000 m/9,000 ft. It looks delicate, but this herbacious perennial is tough blooming away in late August right up until the first heavy frost.
When you look closely at its white starry flowers, you are in for a surprise. They have an uneven petal arrangement, called zygomorphy. Each flower has short upper petals and one or two long lower petals, twice as long as the upper ones. Zygomorphic flowers have more specialized pollination interaction than symmetrical flowers. They have more precise contact with pollinators by guiding pollinator behaviour and excluding less effective pollinators.
It is easy to miss our Saxifraga fortunei. Planted in 2020, they are scattered down the trail through bed 85. This is a shady trail with lots of ferns around, yet Japanese rockfoil still manages to grow right through them. Its genus name Saxifraga comes from the Latin word ‘saxum’ meaning ‘rock’ and ‘frangere’ to break’. It is used to growing in the fissures of rock. Eventually the rock erodes or crumbles. Ferns aren’t going to stop Japanese rockfoil. Global warming might though.
Global warming is happening twice as fast in the habitat of alpine-arctic plants. These plants play a key role for a healthy ecosystem but they are losing their home at an alarming rate. The larger, more dramatic plants elsewhere get all the attention when it comes to habitat loss.
The flowers pictures were taken in October and leaf picture in June.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones