In the oak savannah at the base of Lower Table Rock near Medford OR (Jackson County) Micranthes integrifolia grows in profusion. This member of the Saxifrage Family (Saxifragaceae) has many colloquial names including northwestern saxifrage, smooth-leaved saxifrage, grassland saxifrage and wholeleaf saxifrage.
A native perennial, smooth-leaved saxifrage has a hairy glandular stem growing singly from a rhizome. The rhombic/ovate leaves occur in a basal rosette. There are no cauline (stem) leaves. The smooth-leaved saxifrage leaf blades have marginal hairs, are woolly on the undersides and have short broad petioles. The margins are smooth.
The smooth-leaved saxifrage inflorescence is a compact panicle consisting of several short branches subtended by rusty, woolly bracts. The flowers have five white (or greenish, yellowish or pinkish) petals or the petals may be absent. There are ten stamens and a pistil with a two-chambered ovary and two styles.
The fruit of smooth-leaved saxifrage is a reddish or purplish capsule with two follicles containing brown, ellipsoidal seeds with longitudinal ribbing.
Smooth-leaved saxifrage can be found in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California and Montana from sea level to sub-alpine elevations. Its habitat is meadows, prairies, grassy slopes and vernal pools.
The leaves of smooth-leaved saxifrage are edible but should only be used in small amounts to flavor bland greens or to nibble along the trail.
The original scientific name of smooth-leaved saxifrage was Saxifraga integrifolia and only recently was it moved to Micranthes. The genus name, Micranthes, comes from the Greek “mikros” meaning small and “anthos” meaning flower – small flower. The species is from Latin and indicates that the leaves are entire or not toothed. Saxifrage comes from the Latin “saxum” (rock) and “frangere” (to break). Members of the Saxifrage Family were thought to break up the rocks on which they grew. Because of this, the plants were ground up and fed to patients with gallstones.
These smooth-leaved saxifrage were photographed in April.