Saxifraga fortunei - plant of the month Nov 2011
Saxifraga fortunei was first described in 1863 by William Jackson Hooker from a Chinese collection and named for the adventurer Robert Fortune. It is a memeber of sect. irregulares of the Saxifragaceae which are distinguished by their uneven petal arrangement, or zygomorphy. S. fortunei has a number of varieties; vars. fortunei and koraiensis from China and vars. incisolobatum, obtusocuneata, minima (alpina), partita, crassifolia from Japan.
Treated by some authorities as a subspecies of S. cortusifolia, it now seems commonly accepted to be a species in its own right ( ref: IPNI). Seperated from S.cortusifolia by the absence of yellow spots on the smaller petals with the longest petal 'toothed'
Saxifraga fortunei varies considerably in size, from 7-8cm wide and tall to around 40cm again, in both dimensions. Its a matter of choosing the plant for the situation. All will grow in a peaty, leafy soil with few problems but a moist, partial sheltered corner of the garden will suit it well - the larger varieties and named clones make excellent border plants and the smaller ones also look good in pots and containers. S. fortunei is herbaceous so dies back with heavy frosts but prior to this usually supplies a stunning display with its froth-like panicles of numerous flowers (S.fortunei 'Sue Drew' shown, permanent in the authors garden for several years)
Saxifraga fortunei should not only be thought of as a flowering plant as a number of good selections have been named purely due to the quality of their foliage. Shown here is one of the darker leaved forms, S. fortunei 'Black Ruby' but the colour, shape and texture can vary immensely. Fairly simple in form and colouration but none-the-less attractive is the glossy foliage of S. fortunei 'Mount Nachii' shown below
A trial of Saxifraga fortunei species and varieties has just begun at the RHS gardens at Wisley with 64 different entries being considered for the 'Award of Garden Merit '(AGM). The aim is to assess the currently available taxa, suitable for the rock garden and/or for the border. If you are looking for ways to extend colour in the garden into the late autumn months then this group of plants supplies a large number of easily grown and accomodated representatives - they also make good foliage and flowering plants for the show-bench. ( Tom Greens Certificate of Merit plant of S. fortunei var rubrifolia shown at this years Newcastle show)