On a walk in some welcome sunshine at the beginning of April, we noticed masses of golden saxifrage flowering in the verges.
This pretty little wayside plant tends to get overlooked because it’s not overly flamboyant. It does, however, have delicate flowers which are worth a closer look, even if it means getting on your hands and knees in damp places!
The species we found is correctly known as Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium), which is sometimes and understandably confused with its very similar cousin, Alternate-leaved Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium). From what I can make out, however, the Opposite-leaved variety is more common in the west of Britain, preferring acid soils.
This pretty little plant loves cool, damp, shady places, and seems to be happiest near running water – of which there has been a plentiful supply just lately. We found it rioting in the ditches, along with ferns, mosses and the heart-shaped leaves of celandine. Its habit seems to mimic the bubbling, tumbling action of water itself, and its clusters of flowers draw the eye as they appear to be catching the sun, even if sunlight isn’t falling on them directly.
Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage is the county flower of Clackmannanshire.
Opening between April and June, the tiny flowers of golden saxifrage have no petals. Instead, eight yellow stamens are surrounded by four golden sepals which in turn are flanked by rounded yellowish-green leaves. The graduated tones, set against the mass of rich green foliage, are really lovely!
Look for Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage beside streams, in damp woodland, boggy places, and even on wet mountain slopes. These photographs (below) show it flourishing by the side of St Fillan’s Well, a natural spring which is possibly an ancient healing well.
Photos copyright © Jo & Colin Woolf