S a x i f r a g a c e a e
The nice thing about Saxifrages is that they
grow in nice places. The tough thing about
them is that they can be very rare and hard to
find — like the specimen on the LEFT. We have
raided the archive again and most of these
pictures come from the Sligo uplands with two
species that grow at lower levels.
A section of the Dartry Mountains
between Manorhamilton and the Sea where plants
like the Alpine Saxifrage occur.
Yellow Saxifrage (Saxifraga aizoides)
Perhaps the most beautiful of Irish Saxifrages but not the rarest, though it is uncommon.
This one was photographed on a limestone pinnacle in north Leitrim
Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides)
A spreading species with elongated linear leaves many with 3-pointed as they mature. The 5 petaled
blooms are big and intensely white yellow centres and bright yellow pollen.
A recent photo (April
2017) as this hardy
annual as it starts to
appear scattered over
an abandoned quarry
or gravel driveways.
This is one of two low
altitude saxifrages listed
here. Common, sticky and
reddish with 3-lobed leaves.
This very modest — often overlooked
plant — is another low altitude perennial
carper forming Saxifrage of wet
broadleaved (and coniferous)
This is an intriguing plant being almost missed in
the early Spring where it forms a widespread mat
on suitable soils, often only being replaced as
Bluebells and Wild Garlic take over.
Its success in rapidly covering a forest floor must
be something to do with it being a perennial plant
and the speed with which secondary flowering
stems develop from earlier flowers.
1. Fringed Sandwort (Arenaria ciliata)
Not a Saxifrage but, like the Alpine Saxifrage (Above),
possibly an Ice Age survivor. A plant with stunning
association to this part of the world as can be seen
from an interesting article The Gorey Guardian
published in 2012 [MORE].
It claims that this is another species that may
have survived on a Sligo upland near the Atlantic
during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago. This
photograph was taken 8 years ago… a mere
minute in the history of this species.
An amazing story — do have a read of it — but
this is also a very beautiful plant, as are all these
arctic survivors. It is a member of the Pink family
with larger more perfect flowers than the
saxifrages. It is also of the same family as the
Moss Campion (see below) which is also a
specialty of these mountains.
Apparently DNA testing indicates that these species have been
present in this location in the Darty Mountains for up to
2. Moss Campion (Silene acaulis)
Like the Fringed Sandwort the Moss Companion (BELOW) is another extremely rare plant in Ireland with a
history going back to the Ice Age when the Sligo coast was milder than many mountain areas due to the
proximity of the ocean. A very attractive high mountain Campion found only in NW Ireland and Scottish
Highlands. The flowers are quite delicate and appear from a cushion of fine pointed leaves. Can be a plant of very
high mountains but seems to thrive at a lower level near the sea as in Sligo.
Saxifrages and other Mountain Plants: 2016 study
A revision and refreshing of a page from the early days of WildWest.ie
This is substantially our observations from 2016, with other species
added as we go… Our colour background reflects the often neglected
Yellow Saxifrage (shown BELOW)
Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga
Pride of place in the Saxifrages
must go to the elegant simple
and stalwart Alpine Saxifrage.
This is a rare plant in Scotland
and very rare plant in Ireland. It is
found solely in the highest
mountains in most circumpolar
countries, Ireland being the most
southerly. The National Botanic
Gardens (Glasnevin) have studied
its distribution; this species
seems to occur here as ‘an ancient
refuge of arctic plants?’
These photographs were taken in
June and the stem goes on to be
10 - 12 cm high with up to a
dozen large white flowers with
two bright red styles (starting to
emerge in picture on Left) which
are fertilised by other specimens.
Habitat Forming plants…
The Saxifrages are interesting oddities and some are very significant rarities that provide a valuable function in
making us aware that (for some reason) these elusive, alpine, or axiophytes survive here on the margins of ex-
tinction. It is our hope to save them from extinction by acknowledging their presence in high and lonely places.
By and large Saxifrages and some other mountain dwelling rarities, like the orchid, Lesser Twayblade, are not
habitat forming. This is left to more mundane widespread plants like Sphagnum spp, Heathers, and Fraochains.
The humble Golden Saxifrage is all over the place, however, both in Coniferous and Broad-leaved Woodlands. It is
the early precursor of that carpet of Bluebells, Wild Garlic, Lords and Ladies that coat woodland floors before the
leaves shade the ground. We suspect this species contributes it its own way. It grows very fast, has multiple
flower after flower, and forms a dense photosynthesing mass of ground cover in the early part of each year
releasing nutrients into the soil.
Other Mountain Plants: Crassulaceae
Roseroot (Sedum rosea)
A dramatic plant of
steep cliffs and high
mountains. It is fond of
vertical cracks and
gullies in Limestone,
hence its occurrence in
the Dartry Mountains.
Almost entirely found on
near vertical cliff faces
exposed to the west. It is
best seen by safely
descending a gully and
peering around the
Rare in Ireland but
found fairly easily in
Sligo, Donegal and
Leitrim and other north
westerly locations with
tall bedded limestone
cliffs. A big plant with
large flowers in June.
Three Members of the Pink family: Caryophyllaceae
3. Red Campion Silene dioica
Not particularly rare but largely absent from the Midlands. It has some of the habits of the other Campions
but also occurs on rich waste land and open woodlands and banks and sea cliffs. We have found it mostly
in Lough Key Forest park alongside a river so it was nice to find it on the cliffs around Ben Bulben.
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
A common plant and one which is also a
Saxifrage. This is a dominant plant of lakeside
fore-shores and is a species we look on as an
indicator of possible occurrence of the orchid
We know this as an indicator species for the
orchid as it occurs in the same place, broad
gently sloping lake shores be they stony or
grassy. They are very common, easy to see, and
their needs must be the same as Spiranthes.
However, this plant remains after the orchid is
gone. Why? Well this plant produces multiple
long stems and if one is broken it will grow
another. Orchids, on the other hand, only
produce one flowering head each year and if that
is damaged so too is the survival of the species
on our lake shores.
This leads to a situation where many shores
around L. Conn/Cullin have many ideal
shorelines with many herbs flowering — but the
rare Spiranthes orchid has disappeared due to
alteration of the shore or grazing along the
narrow strip of shore that the orchid needs to
grow and multiply on.
Cabbage family Brassicaceae
Hairy Rock Cress (Arabis hirsuta)
Not a mountain specialty but there was something
about the placement of this plain flower, high up on a
vertical cliff far away from dunes or farm land, that
called for attention.
It is a plant that likes outcrops, has been recorded in
Scotland up to 1000m. and it is, like all the other plants
here, a plant of alkaline (limestone) rocks. Its hairy
leaves are very distinctive and these can appear in
among beds of Moss Campion, Mossy Saxifrage and
other species typical of the Dartry Mountains where it is
Another Sedum… Crassulaceae
White Sedum, (Sedum album) aka White Stonecrop
We attach this plant to out list for comparison with the much larger Roseroot (ABOVE). They belong to the same
genus and this is the species of Stonecrop widely found on stone walls throughout the country, frequently as an
escape from someone’s beloved Rockery where this plant has gone wild.
It is a wild but rare plant and
the photograph (RIGHT)
shows a very large, probably
native, occurrence of it
covering a large part of an old
Crannog (Crann óg meaning
‘Little Tree’) and that and the
sedum are the main cover to
The site is L. Gara, Co.
Roscommon and the Crannog
shown LEFT is at the edge of
a large shallow lake prone to
expansion over low lying
shores. These structures of
loose, often, limestone
boulders were designed to
protect animals and people
from Winter floods.