Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - California Saxifrage

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):California Saxifrage
Scientific Name:Micranthes californica
Family:Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage)
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 15 inches
Habitat:Coastal Sage
Blooms:February to April
Fire Response:Germinate from Seed

California Saxifrage (Micranthes californica) is native to much of California and occurs from southern Oregon down to the northern parts of Baja California. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to find this distinctive looking perennial on one your adventures in the Santa Monica Mountains. Though distributed widely, this plant with tiny flowers and often short blooming periods, is not common in our mountains.

Preferred habitat is soil that is moist, rocky and thin. From the desert to the sea, this plant fits in quite a few different environments. This perennial herb has a small gray-green basal rosette of thick toothed oval leaves up to 10 centimeters long. A cousin of the Woodland Star, one key difference is leaves above the basal rosette indicating Woodland Star. If no leaves above the basal rosette, this would mean California Saxifrage. Long, delicate, hairy leafless stalks arise from rhizomes and are up to 35 Centimeters tall bearing clusters of flowers, often all on one side. Each flower has five green to reddish sepals, five small white petals, and ten stamens at the center. The center of the flower looks to be translucent - like jelly. This part is the Pistil -and it has two separate styles protruding from it. There are five small sepals, bending down as they with age, often purplish; Flowering takes place from February to June. My experience has been that this plant blooms depending on when it rains. In light rain years, California Saxifrage does not bother blooming and becomes dormant as soon as the soil dries from lack of rain.
These flowers are small even when compared to a dime. It is a treat to pull out a hand lens and observe the details of this flower. Details are revealed along with some unexpected beauty when you take the time to pause and observe! Why be in such a hurry to get back your routine.
Name Origin: Micranthes means small flowers - correct for this plant! Saxifraga means stone-breaker this refers to the rocky habitats of some species

California Saxifrage - Originally featured: April 2017
Last modified: March 12 2019 10:11:13.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves