Plants in the Saxifragaceae family are typically perennial and herbaceous. The most well-known garden genera include Saxifraga, Heuchera, Astilbe, Rodgersia and Tiarella.
Most plants in the Saxifragaceae family grow in woodland but some in the Saxifraga genus grow in mountainous regions – the name Saxifraga literally means ‘rock breaker’ and relates to the ability of some species in the genus to grow on exposed rock, although it could also be attributed to the belief of some herbalists that saxifrages could be used to break up kidney stones.
Some saxifrages are found growing in rocky mountainous regions, including the Alps, which are covered in snow and ice for long periods in winter. These plants usually have tough root systems with a large tap root, and form small basal rosettes.
Around the world plants in the Saxifragaceae family have been smoked, used in a tea to treat ear infections and cholera, and eaten in salads.
Plants in this family typically have alternate leaves, which grow along the stem, and moderately showy bisexual flowers.
Rodgersia is a genus of foliage plants, suitable for growing in damp soils such as beside a pond, stream or lake. They prefer shade although they can cope with sun if given more moisture. The two most common garden species are Rodgersia aesculifolia, which has horse chestnut-like leaves and plumes of white summer flowers, and Rodgersia pinnata, which is smaller and has more pinnate, dark-tinged leaves and plumes of pink or white flowers.
Height x Spread: 2m x 1m.
Native to central Asia, including the Himalayas, elephant’s ears, Bergenia, bears large, leathery leaves from which tall spikes of pink flower emerge in summer. Perfect for edging a path, there are 10 species in the genus but only two commonly grown in gardens: Bergenia cordifolia has leaves up to 30cm long and tall spikes of pink flowers in spring – the cultivar ‘Purpurea’ has red-tinged foliage and dark pink blooms. Bergenia purpurescens has erect foliage and flowers from late-winter to early spring.
H x S: 45cm x 30cm.
Mitrewort, Mitella breweri
Brewers mitrewort, Mitella breweri
Mitrewort or Bishop’s Cap, Mitella breweri, is a delightful evergreen ground cover plant for a dry, woodland border or shady part of the garden. It has scalloped dark green, course leaves, from which many sprays of yellow-green flowers appear on pale stems. Black seedbeds develop in autumn.
H x S: 15cm x 20cm.
Saxifraga is the largest genus in the family Saxifragaceae, comprising more than 400 saxifrages, also known as rockfoils. Shade tolerant, they’re often used in alpine displays or rock gardens. Most plants are small, with low-growing rosettes of succulent-like leaves, and inflorescences of flowers held on stems above the foliage. Mossy saxifrage (pictured) forms a low cushion of glossy, bright-green leaves, from which short stems of upwards-facing, star-shaped flowers appear in spring.
H x S: 20cm x 30cm.
Tiarella is a genus of shade loving plants, grown for their foliage although they also bear masses of star-shaped flowers in summer. They’re perfect for using as ground cover, particularly beneath trees, as they tolerate dry shade.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm.
Also known as coral bells, Heuchera is a genus of evergreen plants with a multitude of leaf colours, from lime green to plum. Native to North America, many heucheras hybridise with each other and also with closely related tiarellas, resulting in the hybrid Heucherella. Many cultivars are shade tolerant.
H x S: 50cm x 60cm.
Like other genera in the Saxifragaceae family, astilbes love damp soil and tolerate semi-shade. They’re perfect for growing at the pond edge. They bear fluffy plumes of flowers in shades of pink or white, which are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. The feathery foliage is attractive, too.
H x S: 1.5m x 1m.