Synonyms: Micranthes rufidula, Saxifraga aequidentata, Saxifraga klickitatensis, Saxifraga occidentalis ssp. rufidula, Saxifraga occidentalis var. aequidentata, Saxifraga occidentalis var. rufidula
Rustyhair saxifrage as seen in the central Columbia River Gorge about 150 meters west of the Memaloose Overlook on a north-south running rocky bald.................April 8, 2011.
Western saxifrage (Saxifraga occidentalis) is a species that once had numerous varieties included in it. Recently, many of these varieties have been split into their own species. According to the USDA Plants website, western saxifrage was recently renamed Alberta saxifrage and includes varieties allenii which is found along the eastern slope of the Cascades into the eastern Columbia River Gorge and wallowensis which is more northerly and easterly. In addition, variety rufidula was split to become its own species. I've retained the name western saxifrage here as that is what many of us who view flowers in the gorge are used to, but it will soon become more appropriate to call it rustyhair saxifrage.
Rusthair saxifrage is a perennial with single, simple stems arising from 5-20 cm high from a cluster of several basal leaves. The stems arise from a short rhizome, are short-hairy, and are often reddish-glandular. The thick leaf blades are elliptical or egg-shaped, or occasionally roughly triangular in outline with coarsely toothed margins (15-30 teeth). The blade tapers gradually to a broad petiole, or occasionally rather abruptly to the petiole, giving the leaf in that case a triangular outline. The blades are up to 6 cm long and to 3 cm wide and may be rusty-hairy beneath.
The inflorescence is a narrow to widely branched cyme, the cyme being pyramidal in outline with the branches mostly ascending. The result may be tightly clustered to widely spaced flowers. The flowers are about 5-6 mm wide, usually white with 10 yellow spots near the center. There are 5 petals, and each is egg-shaped. The sepals are blunt-tipped and reflexed out from the petals. The filaments will generally appear club-shaped.
Alberta Saxifrage (Western Saxifrage): Saxifraga occidentalis (formerly Saxifraga occidentalis var. allenii) - Very similar to rustyhair saxifrage with its dentate leaves, but perhaps more easterly located in the Columbia River Gorge. The inflorescence tends to be more pyramidal with the bracts and calyces rarely bearing reddish hairs. The filaments are generally club-shaped.
Rustyhair saxifrage may be found on seasonally moist (spring) slopes, cliffs, and banks from sea level to alpine habitats.
Rustyhair saxifrage may be found from British Columbia south on both sides of the Cascades to northwest Oregon, and east across Oregon and Washington to Idaho, Montana, northwestern Wyoming, and as far south as Elko County, Nevada. In Canada, it may be found as far east as Alberta.
In the Columbia River Gorge, it (variety rufidula) may be found between the elevations of 100'-4500' from near Crown Pt. in the west to Hood River or perhaps as far east as The Dalles, OR. The similar Alberta saxifrage is found east of Hood River (See similar species above.),
A mature example of rustyhair saxifrage as seen about one-quarter mile from the trailhead along the Eagle Creek Trail, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area............April 13, 2012. As the inflorescence becomes mature, one can see the open branching form with the top essentially flat.
-Rustyhair saxifrage as seen high on basalt outcrops along the Hamilton Mountain Trail in Beacon Rock State Park, western Columbia River Gorge................April 23, 2011.
One of the first of the rustyhair saxifrages observed blooming in the Columbia River Gorge during 2012. Seen along the Eagle Creek Trail downstream of Metaka Falls..............February 19, 2012.
-Rusty hair saxifrage blooming on a cut bank along the Eagle Creek Trail about one-quarter of a mile upstream from the trailhead, Columbia River Gorge................March 26, 2012.
The photo above shows the scape and inflorescence of rustyhair saxifrage as seen on moist cliffs at Oneonta Gorge in the Columbia River Gorge...............April, 2000. Because of the flat-topped inflorescence, and reddish-purple tinge to the bracts and underside of the leaves, this photo probably represents the former S. occidentalis variety rufidula, which is found in the Columbia River Gorge, and west of the Cascade Range to the coast. Hitchcock states that the former S. occidentalis variety allenii is represented on the southern slopes of Mt. Adams, and on the upper elevation slopes of the east side of the Cascade Range and eastern Columbia River Gorge. Its inflorescence is more pyramidal and the scapes and bracts tend to be less purplish tinged