Saxifraga nivalis

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaSaxifragaceaeSaxifragaSaxifraga nivalis


A perennial, rhizomatous herb growing on damp, shady, base-rich rocks and cliffs. It is usually found in crevices and on ledges where competing vegetation does not overtop it. From 365 m at Quiraing (N. Ebudes) to 1210 m on Ben Lawers (Mid Perth), with unlocalised records at 1300 m in the Cairngorms.



World Distribution

Circumpolar Arctic-montane element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 6

Moisture (Ellenberg): 6

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 0.6

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.5

Annual Precipitation (mm): 2099

Life form information

Height (cm): 15

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 72

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 1

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.5

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Saxifraga nivalis L.

Alpine saxifrage

Status: scarce


This is a plant of periodically irrigated rocks or open vegetation on the ledges of mountain crags, usually in shaded sites where the rock is strongly base-rich. It seems rather intolerant of competition and is absent from the tall herb-rich vegetation on the larger ledges of montane crags. It is most frequent in pockets and crevices of damp, calcareous, mica-schist crags where associates may include Cystopteris fragilis, Saxifraga oppositifolia, Sedum rosea and, more rarely, Veronica fruticans and Woodsia alpina. Frequent bryophyte associates include Grimmia funalis and G. torquata. It reaches 1125 metres on Ben Lawers, but descends to lower altitudes in the west, down to 365 metres on Quiraing.

S. nivalis is a perennial species, readily setting seed in its Scottish localities but not in Cumbria.

There is no real evidence of any decline in Scotland. It is probably still present in many of the 10 km squares for which only pre-1970 records are available. Cumbrian populations are extremely small and vulnerable. 

It has a circumboreal distribution, extending south in Europe to northern Germany, and occurring in Asia, eastern North America and Greenland.


G. P. Rothero

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (136a)
Curtis TGF, McGough HN
1988.  The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1999)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.
Webb DA, Gornall RJ
1989.  Saxifrages of Europe.