Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist gets close and personal with a saxifrage and illustrates the tribulations of using

I found a saxifrage growing on the broken down wall of the Childwall Woods estate along Childwall
Road, last winter, but could not find a flowering stem, this May, possibly because the plant had died
in the drought, or been smothered by the usual aggressive weeds.

I borrowed BioBank’s copy of “Poland” to try and resolve the mystery of its identity from a
fragment I had taken - comprising fully intact leaves- and found myself keying out Saxifraga
umbrosa (Pyrenean saxifrage) , or Saxifrage nivalis (Alpine saxifrage). I was really attracted to the
latter because “Poland” refers to “the long wavy cilia near the base” (of the petiole).

However, I found I really needed a diagram and reverted to my “Rose”, which has an attractive
section on saxifrages but, unfortunately, was of no help. So, to my 3rd Edition of “Stace”.
Stace” has some really helpful diagrams and my leaf looked like ”no.7” of Fig 131 S. umbrosa.
Mystery solved? Well, not quite. The text for “no7” refers to S. cuneifolia (Lesser London Pride) but
the description sort of fitted. In the text for “No.8”, S. umbrosa, the description fitted in one respect
but not in another.

Mystery solved? Well, not quite.

So, dug out my “Fitter, Fitter and Blamey” for a final opinion. Marjorie, who has now turned 100,
nearly had it solved for me from her diagram of S. umbrosa but… the nearby illustration of S.x
the famous London Pride (a plant I have known from early childhood from my parent’s
garden) sort of got my vote. Umbrosa is one of the parents of x urbium.

The moral of this story is it’s probably best to have five reference books to hand. (Certainly after
tree identification sorties I can be using five reference books) and also, sometimes, it’s better to
admit defeat!


Hot May?-The merry month was the 8 th driest in my 113 months of recording rainfall at just about 1
inch. The driest May in 10 years by a long stretch and as hot as last June.

Mind you, Edwardian artist, naturalist and phenologist, Edith Holden, writing in 1905:-

“This month has been one of the driest Mays I ever remember . We have only had one wet day and one or two
showers during the whole of it”.

Plus ca change!
Rob Duffy 01/06/2018