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    The species on this page are sometimes placed in the Saxifraga genus, sometimes in the Micranthes genus. Colorado flora expert, William Weber, places them in Micranthes indicating that Micranthes species have only basal leaves, whereas Saxifraga species have leafy stems. John Kartesz, ultimate authority for plant names on this web site, also places the three species shown on this page in the Micranthes genus. All three species are also, of course, members of the Saxifrage Family.

    "Saxifrage" means "rock breaker".  The name is most likely derived from one or both of the following:  
1) Saxifrage Family members often grow in rocky, stony areas.
2) Since Saxifrage grows in stony areas it was believed that it would therefore have a medicinal use for breaking kidney stones.  (This supposed relationship between a plant's place of growth, shape, or other characteristics, with its use in human medicine is called "the doctrine of associations".)

Micranthes odontoloma
 
Micranthes odontolomaSynonym: Saxifraga odontoloma. (Brook Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine. Streamsides. Summer.
Navajo Lake Trail, July 6, 2004.
Roaring Fork Road, July 26, 2004.

The distinctive, shiny, scalloped leaves of Brook Saxifrage are very common and evident in and along mountain streams. The flowers are minute works of art.


Flowers are numerous and droop on branching ends of foot tall, slender, leafless stems.

In 1907 Charles Piper ((1867-1926) named this species Saxifraga odontoloma from specimens collected in the Cascade Mountains in 1893 by Sandberg and Leiberg. Amos Heller ((1867-1944) renamed the species Micranthes odontoloma in 1912. "Odon" is Greek for "tooth" and "loma" is "fringe", both probably referring to the leaf margin.

Micranthes odontoloma

Micranthes odontoloma

 
Micranthes odontolomaSynonym: Saxifraga odontoloma. (Brook Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Subalpine. Streamsides. Summer.
Roaring Fork Road, July 26, 2004 and
Bridal Veil Falls Trail above Telluride, August 10, 2015.

 

Micranthes oregana
 
Micranthes oregana.  Synonym: Saxifraga oregana.  (Oregon Snowball Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Marshy areas, tundra. openings. Summer.
Grand Mesa, July 12, 2017 and Cinnamon Pass, August 1, 2007.

Micranthes oregana is uncommon in the immediate Four Corners area, occurring  only in San Juan County, Colorado and then it appears again farther north in Mesa County.  Micranthes oregana is an elongated, multi-flowered version of the very common Micranthes rhomboidea which occurs in every county in the Four Corners area. 

                                           Micranthes oregana

Micranthes oregana occurs in marshy areas and can grow to over two feet tall, at least two or three times the height of Micranthes rhomboidea.  Stems are covered with fine white hairs tipped with bulbous glands; basal leaves are large (to 8" long and 3" wide), fleshy, and slightly toothed; flowers are in several clusters near the top of the stem.

                            oregana

Frederick Coville and F. Funston collected the first specimens of this plant near Mt. Whitney in 1891 and named it Saxifraga integrifolia. Thomas Howell renamed the species Saxifraga oregana in 1895, and John Small renamed it Micranthes oregana in 1905.

oregana
 
Micranthes oregana.  Synonym: Saxifraga oregana.  (Oregon Snowball Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Marshy areas, tundra. openings. Summer.
Left: Grand Mesa, July 12, 2017. Below: Cinnamon Pass, August 1, 2007 and Lake Hope, July 31, 2017.

                 Micranthes oregana   Micranthes oregana

 

Micranthes rhomboidea
 
Micranthes rhomboidea. Synonym: Saxifraga rhomboidea.  (Snowball Saxifrage, Diamondleaf Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Tundra, rocks, openings. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, July 2, 2004.

Micranthes rhomboidea’s snowball flower clusters on a slender stalk are most commonly and easily seen scattered, sometimes abundantly, on alpine ridges and high meadows. At lower elevations this Saxifrage is easily lost in other foliage. Snowball Saxifrage might be mistaken for Bistorta bistortoides.

Micranthes rhomboidea differs from M. oregana in several ways:
1) M. rhomboidea typically grows 5-7" tall (maximum 12"); M. oregana typically grows 12-25" tall (maximum 40").

2) M. rhomboidea has diamond-shaped basal leaves to 2" long; M. oregana has oblanceolate basal leaves to 8" long.
3) M. rhomboidea grows in dry meadows; M. oregana grows in wetlands.
4) M. rhomboidea typically has just one rounded cluster of flowers per stem; M. oregana has several clusters per stem.

In 1889 Edward Lee Greene collected the first specimen of this lovely plant for science on San Francisco Mountain in Arizona.  He named it Saxifraga rhomboidea in 1898.  John Small (1869-1938) renamed it Micranthes rhomboidea in 1905.

Micranthes rhomboidea
Micranthes rhomboidea. Synonym: Saxifraga rhomboidea.  (Snowball Saxifrage, Diamondleaf Saxifrage)
Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Montane, subalpine, alpine. Tundra, rocks, openings. Summer.
Left: Sharkstooth Trail, June 28, 2007.

Micranthes rhomboidea

Micranthes oregana

Top photograph: Micranthes rhomboidea on high and relatively dry tundra on the Colorado Trail near Stoney Pass, July 15, 2015.
Bottom photograph: Micranthes oregana white/yellow stems projecting above a flower-covered wetland on the Crag Crest Trail, Grand Mesa, July 12, 2017.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Micranthes odontoloma

Range map for Micranthes oregana

Range map for Micranthes rhomboidea

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