An alpine mystery...

Submitted by Lori S. on Thu, 08/11/2011 - 16:20

I saw this the other day on an alpine hike, on a scree slope that is somewhat wettish from snow melt running through it.
The leaves ought to make it pretty easy, but I have compared to what I thought were the likely suspects and not yet found a match. It appears to have 5 stamens from what I can tell (rather than the 10 of Saxifraga spp.).
Anyone know what it is?


Submitted by Tim Ingram on Fri, 08/12/2011 - 06:49

Lori - the leaves look like Lithophragma and the only (poor) image I could find suggests heterophylla - most species have more cut petals. I grew one of these species years ago but didn't look at it very closely.

Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 08/12/2011 - 09:16

Thanks, Tim.  That was one of my first thoughts, due to the unusual leaves.  However, I don't believe it is either Lithophragma parviflorum or L. glabrum, the two species that one might find here (though I have not seen them yet).  The petals should be 3-5-cleft, and don't think the inflorescence structure fits.
I think it is Saxifragaceae though.
"Stamens 5, petals present and entire" leads me, in the key, to Suksdorfia and Conimitella (which is more Heuchera-like)... I don't think those are right either.
Hmmm, am I fooling myself that it is not Saxifraga?

Submitted by Mark McD on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 07:26

Looks like Romanzoffia sitchensis to me, a member of the Hydrophyllaceae (think Hydrophyllum & Phacelia), although the whole family is subsumed under Boraginaceae by some authorities (The Plant List), although most North American taxonomic authorities retain Hydrophyllaceae.
... this photo looks very similar to your photo:

Cute little thing, isn't it!  When I lived in Washington State, this was one of my favorite little "findlings", one of the lesser known small genera that are very much worth growing.

More links:
...from this link looks like it gets very close to Alberta (map showing populations in British Columbia)

In the link above, range is given as "Moist to wet cliffs and talus slopes from the upper montane to alpine zones; frequent on Vancouver Island, less frequent on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Cascade Mountains and SE BC; N to SE AK, E to AB and S to ID, MT and N CA"; I'm assuming that the "E to AB" reference means East to Alberta.

Submitted by Lori S. on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 09:34

Thanks, Mark!  That seems to be it.  Finally, I see the elusive mistmaiden... cute, indeed!