Prairie Stars and Sugar Scoops, Jack O' the Rocks and Piggy-back Plants; Saxifragaceae is a distinctive and somewhat eccentric family of plants. The tall stems of unusual flowers sprouting from an often even odder basal leaf cluster lead to local recognition and unusual names. Their tendency to grow in rocky places with little surrounding vegetation makes them even more noticeable. This is not a discrete family. One guide's description of Peltiphyllum peltatum (Umbrella Plant) that grows in the mountains bears quoting:
"The leaf blade is an immense umbrella (1 - 2 feet wide) on a stout succulent petiole arising from a large fleshy rhizome that crawls over wet rocks."
I'm certainly going to be careful where I put the tent next time I'm in the Sierras.
Saxifragaceae are popular in native gardens, surviving well in rocky areas, although some prefer shade and moist surroundings. Coralbells (Huechera sanguinea), a native of New Mexico and Alum Root (Heuchera micrantha) do well in local gardens, as do Sugarscoop (Tiarella trifoliata) and Fringe Cups (Tellima grandiflora).
As mentioned, the leaves are usually in a basal cluster, or at least limited to the lower portions of the plant. The 5 - lobed calyx of the flowers forms a cup, with 5 petals of varying size attached. Some have 5 stamens, others have 10. Most are perennials that die back each autumn.
Flowers: Whitish - Pink, tiny, in nodding clusters along stems.
Blooms: April - June.
Leaves: Clustered at base of plant; Maple - shaped and hairy, with distinctive red veins.
Location: Damp, shady trails - Hazelnut Trail in San Pedro Valley County Park and San Pedro Road in McNee Ranch State Park.
Status: Native - Common.
Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 ft tall, reddish hairy stems.
This plant likes to grow in crevices and in wet rocky areas - hence it's other common names of Crevice Huechera and Mountain Saxafrage. The dried flower stems are a familiar sight in late summer and fall.
The root and leaves of Alum Plant are high in tanin content, and are used in herbal remedies as an astringent. The powdered root is good for shaving nicks, I hear, and dried leaves or root slices added to pickling keeps fruits and vegetables crisp and colorful. Really!
Flowers: White, red and brown; small nodding cups with strap-like petals with fringed tips. Arrayed along a tall stem.
Blooms: March - June.
Leaves: Maple - like, hairy, 2 - 5 inches wide.
Location: Shady, damp trails. Brooks Falls Overlook Trail in San Pedro Valley County Park.
Status: Native - Common.
Further description & Comment: 1 -3 ft tall, green hairy stems.
The flowers change color as they are pollinated ( I guess so the insects don't waste any time), from white to red to brown, a variation seen on single plants from top to bottom on the stems (and which means I'll need to put them in three places in the color list!)
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