Although relatively close to the well known mountains of Greece and the Balkans, Romania has a flora that is little known outside its borders. This fact is obvious from the small number of references in literature to Romanian species and botanically rich areas. The Carpathian Mountains form a sort of fortress with Transylvania in the middle. This is not just the homeland of Dracula but also the home of 23 species of Saxifraga plus one natural hybrid. On the walls of this fortress saxifrages lead a thriving existence. If you visit this country, any of the peaks rising over 2000 m should host a good selection of the native species.

  • saxifraga_aizoides_9Saxifraga aizoides
  • saxifraga_carpatica_1Saxifraga carpatica
  • saxifraga_corymbosa_6Saxifraga corymbosa
  • saxifraga_exarata_moschata_11Saxifraga exarata ssp. moschata
  • saxifraga_mutata_demissa_1Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa
  • saxifraga_mutata_demissa_2Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa
  • saxifraga_paniculata_4Saxifraga paniculata ssp. paniculata
  • saxifraga_pedemontana_cymosa_4Saxifraga pedemontana ssp. cymosa
  • saxifraga_stellaris_4Micranthes stellaris

We have 4 species of Section PorphyrionSaxifraga oppositifolia and Saxifraga retusa ssp. retusa dwell on the highest peaks of the Rodna, Bucegi and Făgăraşului Mountains. The hard cushions of Saxifraga marginata cling to fissures of limestone cliffs and gorges throughout the country. A form with pinkish petals is found near Cluj on Colţii Trascăului and by the Thieves Cave at Băile Herculane.  

Image of Saxifraga corymbosa by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga corymbosa, Romanian endemic form with purple hairs, sometimes recognized as f. luteo-purpurea, wild, Romania

Saxifraga corymbosa, another lime loving species, has a wide distribution, but the form with purple hairs on the flower stalks (f. luteo-purpurea) grows only in the Rodna, Bucegi, Făgăraş, Piatra Craiului, and Ceahlău Mountains.

Section Mesogyne is represented by Saxifraga carpatica and the glacial relic Saxifraga cernua, two species that are closely related. 

Image of Saxifraga carpatica by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga carpatica, Plant in leaf, wild, Romania

The leaves of both species are lobed (with 5-9 lobes), but those of Scernua are broader than those of Scarpatica and sometimes resemble a lax cushion. Another important distinctive feature is that Scarpatica lacks the scarlet leaf bulbils of Scernua. While the latter has only one flower borne on a 10-35 cm stalk, Scarpatica has 1 to 5 white or sometimes red flowers on a 5-20 cm stalk. Both species like wet outcrops and riverbeds in the alpine belt.

There are six species of Section Saxifraga native to Romania. Saxifraga bulbifera is a meadow inhabitant in a few mountains and hills in Transylvania, but it also grows in the meadows near the hot spring resort of Băile l Mai, which is the home of the endemic Nymphaea lotus var. thermalis, an aquatic relic of subtropical Europe.

Image of Saxifraga pedemontana ssp. cymosa by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga pedemontana ssp. cymosa, whole plant, wild, Romania

Saxifraga pedemontana ssp. cymosa forms lax cushions of bright, hairy leaves that are topped by snowy white flowers. It likes to hide itself in damp hollows or under rocks in the shade. Here in Cluj, where the summer months can be rather hot and dry, it proves difficult to cultivate. Up in the mountains it is, depending on the weather, in full flower in June and July. 


Image of Saxifraga exarata ssp. moschata by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga exarata ssp. moschata, whole plant with pinkish flowers, wild, Romania

Another cushion species is the variable Saxifraga exarata ssp. moschata. More compact forms can be found in screes and crevices on the Inău peak (Rodna), the Moldoveanu peak in Făgăraş Mountains, and in Bucegi. There is also a form with purple flowers in Făgăraş.

One can encounter Saxifraga androsacea on moist outcrops in the alpine belt. It grows together with SbryoidesPedicularis verticillataCampanula alpina and Saxifraga pedemontana ssp. cymosa on top of Inău peak in Rodna.

The last two species of Section Saxifraga that I will describe here are from Subsection TridactylitesSaxifraga tridactylites is an annual found from the sands of the Danube Delta all the way up to the highest peaks of the mountains. 
Saxifraga adscendens is a taller species, but also quite common in the mountains. This annual or biennial plant is found growing among rocks and gravel, in sandy soil at higher altitudes. Its numerous white or sometimes pinkish flowers are borne in panicles.

Image of Saxifraga paniculata ssp. paniculata by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga paniculata ssp. paniculata,whole plant, tight rosettes and few-flowered shoots, wild, Romania

The short-lived Saxifraga cymbalaria, classified in Section Cymbalaria, is found only in Bacău County along wet valleys close to the resort of Băile Slănic. This plant also grows in the Caucasus, Lebanon and Algeria.

Saxifraga rotundifolia from Section Cotylea is relatively common in moist woody valleys at the foot of mountains. 
The widespread Saxifraga paniculata is the only species in Section Ligulatae that occurs in Romania. This silver saxifrage is probably the most common saxifrage in our country. Of its many forms one can find f. alpicola with spatulate leaves 2-4 cm long, f. brevifolia with smaller leaves of just 0.5 to 1.5 cm long, the 18-60 cm tall f. recta and many others in between.


Image of Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa, whole plant in flower, wild, Romania

Saxifraga cuneifolia, a representative of Section Gymnopera is also quite common. It prefers sites with a high atmospheric humidity. It can be found growing in deep valleys or in shady woodland on screes and rocks covered with a very shallow layer of humus.

The small Section Xanthizoon is well represented in Romania. Saxifraga mutata ssp. mutata used to be found in swamps near Braşov but is now listed as extinct in Romania.

Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa is the only endemic species. In addition to the information in an article I wrote a few years back, I must point out that during a trip I took in the summer of 2004 to the same region as that visited in 2001, I observed that some of the plants had many side rosettes. 

Image of Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa, Rosette showing side shoots, wild, Romania

In the case of the picture presented left the central rosette was surrounded by more than 10 rosettes varying in size from almost as big as the central one to just a small bud of 2 or 3 developing leaves. The plant flowers in August but seeds of last year?s flowers can be found at the same time on dead specimens.

Saxifraga aizoides is a frequent inhabitant of high altitude rivulet banks and grassy wet spots throughout the country.

In section Micranthes there are two species that occur in Romania that like their feet wet. Saxifraga hieracifolia is an unattractive species found along valleys in Rodna, Făgăraş and on mount Ceahlău.

Image of Micranthes stellaris by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Micranthes stellaris, group of plants in flowers, wild, Romania

On the other hand Saxifraga stellaris is frequent throughout the mountain range at higher altitudes.

Image of Saxifraga aizoides by Răzvan Chişu : - click to view the full size picture

Saxifraga aizoides, dense cluster of flowers, wild, Romania

Saxifraga bryoides from Section Trachyphyllum is an inhabitant of mountain tops. This inconspicuous species bears its tiny white flowers among other alpine species.

Section Ciliatae is represented in my country by Saxifraga hirculus. It only grows in swamps in the Harghita Mountains. These swamps represent the southernmost populations in the distribution of this species. On top of hairy stems the yellow flowers, sometimes dotted with orange, flower from July till September.

A natural hybrid?

Saxifraga x paxii (Scorymbosa paniculata) is listed as growing in Piatra Craiului, one of the most spectacular mountains in Romania. In the herbarium of the Botanical Garden in Cluj (the largest in Romania with more than 660,000 sheets among which are the personal collections of Baumgarten) there is just one specimen, collected on mount Domogled, close to the border with Bulgaria. [Webb and Gornall expressed their doubt about the correct identification of this hybrid in Saxifrages of Europe p.104 and suggest that it might be just a robust specimen of Scorymbosa. Editor.]

And finally?
In terms of conservation the National Red List (1994) records Smutata ssp. mutata as extinct at its only known location; Shirculus as endangered; Sbulbifera as vulnerable due to its limited distribution and type of preferred habitat while Sscernuamutata ssp. demissa and cymbalaria are recorded as rare.

Sadly the cultivation of saxifrages and alpine plants is generally restricted to the collections of Botanical Gardens and a few enthusiasts. Botanical Gardens that have alpine collections are those in Cluj, Jibou, Arad, Iaşi and Bucureşti.
So if you wish to visit Romania?s mountains someday to see the alpine plants or the castle of count Dracula in Bucegi, remember there are some saxifrages that await your appreciation. 

? Boşcaiu N., Coldea G., Horeanu C., Lista roşie a plantelor vasculare, Bucureşti, 1994
? Chişu R., Saxifraga mutata ssp. demissa, The Saxifrage Magazine No.10, 2000
? Opriş T., Plante unice ? peisajul rom?esc, Sport-Turism, Bucureşti, 1990
? Săvulescu T., Flora Rom?iei, vol. IV, Editura Academiei RPR, Bucureşti, 1956