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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007
By LINDA INOKI
There are about 370 species of saxifrage, ranging from the mountains of Greece to the tundra of Iceland. Typically, the plants form cushions or rosettes of close-packed leaves. They can send their roots deep into cracks in the rocks, which not only gives them a strong anchor in severe weather, but also helps them seek out water and nutrients. The ability to live in the toughest of places explains their reputation as rock-splitters (in Latin, saxum means "a rock," and frango means "to break"). One of the loveliest species is Saxifraga fortunei, a native of China and Japan, which favors a wet, rocky habitat. In late summer and early autumn, its attractive, hairy leaves are topped with sprays of dainty, white flowers. Since one or two of the five petals are elongated, the flowers resemble the Chinese character dai, meaning "great." Thus, the plant is called daimonjiso in Japanese, which roughly translates as "great-letter plant."