The Ancient King

Saxifraga florulenta

Appearance

Perennial herbaceous plant. Forms large rosettes with numerous leaves.
The basal leaves arelinear-spatulate, 3-6 cm long when fully grown. They are leathery and hairy at the margins, do not have calcareous incrustations and have an acute and mucronate apex. Densely glandular cauline leaves.
Flowering stem 15-30 cm tall, extremely thick, reddish and leafy. It forms a tapered spike with many tapered, bell-shaped, flesh-pink flowers.


Flowering

July-September. This saxifrage blooms only once, after an estimated 30 to 75 years (Focquet, 1982), and after the fruits ripen it dies.


Habitat

Cliffs and rocky walls, preferably shaded, on the siliceous rocks of the crystalline Argentera massif. It often grows in clusters, at an altitude between 1950 and 3200 metres.


Distribution

Palaeondemism of the Maritime Alps of which about a hundred sites are known in the Vermenagna, Gesso and Stura valleys.


Etymology

Saxifraga derives from the Latin saxum, "rock" and frango, "break". So, considering the habitat where this plant is born, the cracks in the crystalline rocks, it is a very appropriate name: "rockbreak". The species name means on the other hand "full of flowers, in bloom".


Fun facts

This flower is an emblem of the crystalline Argentera-Mercantour massif, it was chosen in the 1980s by the Parc National du Mercantour as a symbol of the protected area. According to popular legend, it was so beautiful and inaccessible, that to prepare a basket as a gift for the queen, the king's hunters would shoot the flowers down. When Queen Margaret of Savoy (1851-1926) was appointed Honorary President of the "Ladies Alpine Club" in 1909, she sent an artistic composition of saxifrage from Argentera to her English associates: today, given the rarity of the plant and its international protection, she could expect a hefty fine!


Protection

Species at risk, considered Vulnerable by the IUCN and protected at national and regional level with the L.R. n. 32 of 2 November 1982: "Rules for the conservation of the natural heritage and the environmental order".



Endemism: Endemisms are animal or plant species living exclusively in a given territory. When this is very limited, we speak of " confined" endemisms. "Endemic" is not necessarily synonymous with "rare": rare species may have few individuals distributed over large areas, an endemic species can also be abundant in a given area, but be limited to that single territory.