If it looks like a saxifrage and it grows like a saxifrage, then it’s a saxifrage… right? Well, no. Not in the case of mist maidens (Romanzoffia californica). The delicate spray of white flowers rises on long bare stalks from a rosette of scalloped leaves… which is the characteristic growth pattern of the Saxifragaceae. But this little moisture-loving plant is actually in the Boraginaceae family, along with forget-me-nots and fiddlenecks.
Mist maidens are found in shaded forests and moist, rocky slopes in Oregon and northern California. You’ll almost always see them in wetlands (or wet-hills?); the Marin Flora reports that they are especially spectacular on the Tomales Bluffs, where great masses of them grow.
This delicate flower boasts five raggedy white petals on a long bare stem. Common woodland star (Lithophragma affine) is a member of the Saxifragaeae family, as was yesterdays post. The woodland star is a little more “typical” of the family, with its elegant white flowers and long, mostly leafless stem. But because of its tendency to sprawl rather than grow upright, I wasn’t sure if my hunch that it was a saxifrage was right until I looked it up. It also lacks the multiplicity of obvious stamens mentioned in the previous post.
There is another very similar species in Marin – the hillside woodland star (Lithophragma heterophyllum). You can most easily distinguish the two because the hillside woodland star has a tendency to sprout little bulbs, or “bulblets,” in the joint where the leaf meets the stem. Also if you look at the back of the flower (the “hypanthium,” you can see that the common woodland star joins the stem gradually whereas hillside woodland star flattens off dramatically at the back, so the stem attaches on to a nearly flat surface like a pencil set on the middle of a plate.