How to Plant & Grow Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)


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Golden saxifrage in bloom with yellow-green sepals
Golden saxifrage’s flowers are unique in the sense that they don’t have petals, but yellow-green sepals instead. Danny S., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A moisture-loving plant distinguished by its golden flowers, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium is commonly known as opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. The famous taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus, first described this plant in 1753, after which it was classified under the Saxifragaceae family.

Largely distributed across the northern hemisphere, this family includes hundreds of herbaceous flowering plants. Golden saxifrage is one of around 60 species under the Chrysosplenium genus, which are notable for being shade tolerant as they grow under the canopies of deciduous trees.

C. oppositifolium, native across northern to central Europe, is a perennial herb that rarely grows taller than 15 cm in height. Its features include round leaves with short stalks that arise opposite one another along the length of the stem. The leaves tend to have deceptively wiry-looking blunt hairs that are much more delicate to the touch than they appear.

The small flat-topped flowers (3-4 mm) of this plant are unique in the sense that they have no petals. Instead, they have succulent yellow-green sepals and vivid yellow stamens that give them a distinct ‘golden’ appearance. This makes them look as though they are catching the sun even if they are in the shade!

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Golden Saxifrage

Golden saxifrage is often found clumped in creeping matts and on damp, shaded undergrowth, such as along the banks of babbling brooks, mountainside forest streams, calm springs, and limestone sinkholes. It is important to note that it can be confused with its almost identical cousin, Chrysosplenium alternifolium, particularly because they have the tendency to grow alongside each other. The only stark difference lies in the way the leaves are oriented along the stem. C. alternifolium has alternating, instead of directly opposing, leaves. In addition, C. oppositifolium has a preference for acidic soils, whereas its close cousin can withstand alkaline conditions.

Fancy a crunchy golden salad? The succulent leaves of golden saxifrage would be a great component of any wild salad. They are among a handful of spring greens that are relatively easy to forage in the wild. If you intend to grow some as ground cover around your pond and are a tad adventurous with food, then this nutritious treat can be a home staple to add color and variety to your dishes.

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Golden Saxifrage Fact Sheet:
PLANT TYPE
Perennial
HARDINESS ZONES
USDA 4 – 8; UK Zone 5
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Shade
BLOOM COLOR
Yellow or yellow-green
BLOOM PERIOD
April – July
MAXIMUM GROWTH
15 cm
PLANTING DEPTH
2 cm
WATER QUALITY
pH 5.5 – 7.5

 


Golden Saxifrage Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Golden saxifrage in wet woodland
Golden saxifrage prefers damp, wet soil in shaded or overcast areas. AJC1 / CC BY-SA

C. oppositifolium has an affinity for damp, wet soil in shaded or overcast areas. Interestingly, it is a species of interest in the field of climate ecology, as its tolerance for acidic soils contributes to its resilience in the face of climate change. It has been shown to occupy more environmental space after extreme climatic shifts. It can survive in both acidified lowland and upland springs, and may thus be vital in understanding the impact of global warming on wetland ecology. Additionally, this species has been shown to successfully mature in a variety of soils. As this plant grows in close proximity to freshwater in the wild, it is ideal for cultivating alongside moss as ground cover on the borders or edges of your pond or bog garden. 


How to Plant Golden Saxifrage

Golden saxifrage plant flowering with yellow-green sepals
If you want to grow golden saxifrage from seed, be sure to prepare your set-up in either spring or autumn. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden saxifrage can be propagated via seed or plant division. If you wish to grow this plant from seed, it would be best to use a cold frame to regulate humidity and to ensure protection from the elements. Prepare your set-up in either spring or autumn. Seedlings should be kept in the frame through their first winter and then planted in your garden when the final frosts have thawed (late spring/early summer).

Sow the seeds onto moist soil in a pot that sits in around 2 cm of water. Place your pot in a lightly shaded area of the cold frame or greenhouse. Let the seedlings grow until they are large enough to handle, and then transfer them to individual pots. These pots should likewise be kept in a tray of shallow water, at least for the duration of winter and early spring. Come early summer, take the pots out of the cold frame and transfer the matured seedlings to their permanent positions. Keep in mind that this plant has a preference for shady areas and consistently moist soil.

A more straightforward way of planting golden saxifrage is by taking a mature plant and dividing it into large clumps. If smaller clumps get separated in the process, set these aside. Take the larger clumps and plant them into a few centimeters of soil in their permanent positions. You may want to select areas that are partly shaded by rocky outcroppings around your pond or garden. This way, the newly planted divisions are afforded some protection and shade. Take the small clumps and pot them up individually, as you would seedlings in a cold frame or greenhouse. Upon the arrival of spring, you may outplant them into their permanent positions.


How to Care For Golden Saxifrage

Golden saxifrage in a wet forest
Little maintenance is required for the golden saxifrage plant. Regularly check for weeds and ensure that the soil stays moist but well-drained. Richtid, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden saxifrage should be relatively easy to care for if your garden is located within its native range. Once established, this plant would require little maintenance. As it is a small plant, regularly check for weeds and gently pluck them out before they can overgrow your saxifrage mat. Ensure that the soil stays moist, but well-drained. Make sure that your plant doesn’t get buried in the soil after periods of strong rainfall, and ensure that its succulent leaves don’t get too sun-stressed. A well-cared-for golden saxifrage may attract pollinators, such as flies and beetles, to your garden.


How to Winter Golden Saxifrage

As this plant is native to some Arctic zones in northern European territories, it is capable of withstanding harsh winter conditions. In its mature form, it would not require special overwintering techniques. Do bear in mind, however, that young seedlings and small divisions should be provided with some protection. Keep them far from frost in your cold frame or greenhouse for the duration of winter. Due to the perennial nature of this plant, it will bloom again come summer and should proliferate in your garden for many years to come.


Is Golden Saxifrage Invasive or Toxic?

Though particularly hardy and capable of self-fertilization, there is no record of golden saxifrage being invasive outside of its native range. Its spread is reliant on insects for pollination, and its extent of coverage in the wild will likely remain within shaded fragments of moist woodlands. Its herby leaves and flowers are non-toxic.


Is Golden Saxifrage Edible? Will Fish and Animals Eat it?

C. oppositifolium and its cousin C. alternifolium have leaves and sprigs that are edible raw, as a crunchy part of salads, or steamed and cooked in soup. Though its firm leaves may have a distinctly bitter taste, they can be used to complement other flavors in cooked dishes, such as seasoned millet. As it typically does not grow submerged in water, fish do not have access to it. It may attract animals, such as rodents, though its hairs may deter smaller fauna.


Where to Buy Golden Saxifrage & Seeds? (UK & US)

Potted golden saxifrage can be purchased from plant nurseries and aquascaping shops that are located within its native range. Seeds may be more difficult to find commercially. Mature sprigs, ready for division, may also be available for purchase online. Do keep in mind, however, that this plant favors northern temperate conditions and may have difficulty thriving outside of its hardiness zones.

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