Biota of the Blue Ridge: Early Saxifrage

Spring blooms, from low to high elevation, always too quickly

The opportunity and excuse arose this past Saturday afternoon to hike (even in the 30 mph winds) the crest of Rocky Knob with friends. I needed to scout the area anyway in anticipation of this Saturday’s nature-photo excursion there and along Rock Castle Creek below.

Standing on the crest west of Saddle Gap at 3100 feet looking down into the Gorge whose bottom is at about 1600 feet, you can see spring creeping up the incline, bottom to top. Any given species of wildflower found at both places will have average bloom dates vary as much as a week, I’m guessing, so we’ll see bud to gone-by for some things at the weekend foray.

Pictured here, a species I either have never seen or it’s been so long I forgot. I recognized it as a saxifrage (member of the Saxifragaceae) because of it’s serrated basal leaves and inflorescence (a corymb, where flowers are on branches of different lengths but the flowers form an arc–versus an umbel where all flower stalks are the same length and the inflorescence like Queen Anne’s Lace is flat-topped.)

This one is called Early Saxifrage, Saxifraga virginiensis. And as suggested by the name, we may or may not see it still in bloom by the weekend at the higher elevation. It is apparently recorded for Floyd County but is not common in my experience, so I was happy to “discover” it and find it in such nice 6 pm light waiting for its portrait.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I believe this is a plant species that normally is found north of you except for at higher altitudes, hence its position on the landscape where you found it.

    Fairly common up this way.

  2. Headed up your way on Wednesday. If you are out scouting locations come by the house. Views from the deck could be spectacular and you are welcome to bring your group over.