Early Saxifrage Saxifraga virginiensis
FlowersWhite, small, numerous, perfect, spreading into a loose panicle. Calyx 5-lobed; 5 petals; 10 stamens; 1 pistil with 2 styles. Scape: 4 to 12 in. high, naked, sticky-hairy. Leaves: Clustered at the base, rather thick, obovate, toothed, and narrowed into spatulate-margined petioles. Fruit: Widely spread, purplish brown pods.
Preferred HabitatRocky woodlands, hillsides.
DistributionNew Brunswick to Georgia, and westward a thousand miles or more.
Rooted in clefts of rock that, therefore, appears to be broken by this vigorous plant, the saxifrage shows rosettes of fresh green leaves in earliest spring, and soon whitens with its blossoms the most forbidding niches. (Saxum = a rock; frango = I break.) At first a small ball of green buds nestles in the leafy tuffet, then pushes upward on a bare scape, opening its tiny, white, five-pointed star flowers as it ascends, until, having reached the allotted height, it scatters them in spreading clusters that last a fortnight.
Foam-flower; False Miterwort; Coolwort; Nancy-over-the-Ground
FlowersWhite, small, feathery, borne in a close raceme at the top of a scape 6 to 12 in. high. Calyx white, 5-lobed; 5 clawed petals; 10 stamens, long-exserted; 1 pistil with 2 styles. Leaves: Long-petioled from the rootstock or runners, rounded or broadly heart-shaped, 3 to 7-lobed, toothed, often downy along veins beneath.
Preferred HabitatRich, moist woods, especialIy along mountains.
DistributionNova Scotia to Georgia, and westward scarcely to the Mississippi.
Fuzzy, bright white foam-flowers are most conspicuous in the forest when seen against their unevenly colored leaves that carpet the ground. A relative, the true Miter.. wort or Bishop’s Cap (Mittella diphylla), with similar foliage, except that two opposite leaves may be found al-most seated near the middle of its hairy stem, has its flowers rather distantly scattered on the raceme, and their fine petals deeply cut like fringe. Both species may be found in bloom at the same time, offering an opportunity for comparison to the confused novice. Now, tiarella, meaning a little tiara, and mitella, a little miter, refer, of course, to the odd forms of their seed-cases; but all of us are not gifted with the imaginative eyes of Linnaeus, who named the plants. Xenophon’s assertion that the royal tiara or turban of the Persians was encircled with a crown helps us no more to see what Linnaeus saw in the one case than the fact that the papal miter is encircled by three crowns helps in the other. And as for the lofty, two-, peaked cap worn by Bishops in the Roman Church, a dozen plants, with equal propriety, might be said to wear it.
Grass of Parnassus Parnassia caroliniana
FlowersCreamy white, delicately veined with greenish, solitary, 1 in. broad or over, at the end of a scape 8 in. to 2 ft. high, 1 ovate leaf clasping it. Calyx deeply 5-lobed; corolla of 5 spreading, parallel veined petals; 5 fertile stamens alternating with them, and 3 stout imperfect stamens clustered at base of each petal; I very short pistil with 4 stigmas. Leaves: From the root, on long petioles, broadly oval or rounded, heart-shaped at base, rather thick.
Preferred HabitatWet ground, low meadows, swamps. Flowering SeasonJulySeptember.
DistributionNew Brunswick to Virginia, west to Iowa.
What’s in, a name? Certainly our common grass of Parnassus, which is no grass at all, never starred the meadows round about the home of the Muses, nor sought the steaming savannas of the Carolinas. The European counterpart (P. palustris), fabled to have sprung up on Mount Parnassus, is at home here only in the Canadian border states and northward.