Iowa Golden-saxifrage - Center For Plant Conservation
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Plant Profile

Iowa Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium iowense)

  • Global Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Saxifragaceae
  • State: AB, BC, CAN, IA, MB, MN, NT, SK
  • Nature Serve ID: 143839
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/10/1987

If you were to travel back in time to the last ice ages, about 15,000 years ago, you would likely see a land covered by glaciers, with the exception of a small area in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin & Illinois. This area would appear to you as an island full of plant and animal life surrounded by a sea of ice. Flash forward to the present, and you will see that this area is still a type of island that is now known as the "Driftless Area". This island is composed of steep limestone bluffs with cold groundwater seeps and year-round ice caves that are surrounded by low, flat, fertile land that was transformed by the glaciers that once covered it. This so-called "Driftless Area" provides a special habitat for certain boreal plant and animal species that were likely fairly common before the last glaciation, among them Chrysosplenium iowense. Now, however, many of them are found nowhere else in the United States or, in some cases, the world. Plant Description: Chrysosplenium iowense is a fairly inconspicuous herb with round, lobed leaves arranged alternately on stems that grow from 3-15 cm. tall. Yellowish-green flowers that are only 3-5 mm. in diameter appear from May to July. The seeds are smooth, 0.7 to 0.9 mm. long, and light chestnut brown in color. The chromosome number is 2n = ca. 120. (Packer 1963)

Where is Iowa Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium iowense) located in the wild?


Chrysosplenium iowense can be found near streams on the cool, shaded, north-facing slopes of limestone hills & bluffs with shale foundations. In areas like this, water percolates into the hills and seeps out when it hits the shale foundation. This forms ice caves and cold air tunnels in some places that serve to maintain very low temperatures (no more than 16 degrees Celsius) at ground level. It is because of these consistently boreal forest-like cool temperatures that C. iowense is able to persist in an area that otherwise has extreme hot and cold temperatures.Roosa and Eilers (1978) and Morely (1978) list common associates of this species as Abies balsamea, Acer spicatum, Adoxa moschatellina, Betula lutea, Carex media, Carex peckii, Circaea alpina, Cornus canadensis, Equisetum scirpoides, Linnaea borealis, Lycopodium spp., Maianthemum canadensis, Mertensia paniculata, Rhamnus alnifolia, Ribes hudsonianum, Taxus canadensis, Trillium nivale, and Viburnum opulus var. americana.


From northwestern Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and in the """"Driftless Area"""" of Iowa and Minnesota. (Packer 1963)

States & Provinces:

Iowa Golden-saxifrage can be found in Alberta, British Columbia, Canada, Iowa, Manitoba, Minnesota, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan

Which CPC Partners conserve Iowa Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium iowense)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Primarily a Canadian species. In Canada, known from British Columbia (S2?), Alberta (S3?), Saskatchewan (S1), and Manitoba (S1?) (current ranks as of July 2016). About 25 disjunct populations occur in the U.S. (in Iowa and Minnesota); these are believed to be relics of Pleistocene vegetation.

  • 01/01/2010

As identified by Hutson (1981), Morley (1978) and Smith (1981), threats to this particular species include: Direct loss of habitat due to urban expansion has been and continues to be a threat to this species. An indirect decrease in habitat quality fro

  • 01/01/2010

This majority of populations of this species can be found primarily in Canada, where it not listed as threatened or endangered. In the United States a disjunct cluster of populations, considered to be glacial relicts from the last ice age, are much more rare. In fact, there are around eight locations in Iowa and one in Minnesota with seven small populations for a total of around 25 populations in the United States, none of which are large (Scwartz 1985, Coffin and Pfannmuller 1988, NatureServe 2001).

  • 01/01/2010

Schwartz (1985) used starch gel electrophoresis to assess genetic variability in and among five Iowa populations, and found it to be extremely low. Packer (1963) used a number of methods, including morphology measurements, chromosome count, and geographical distribution, and chromosome count to establish the taxonomy of Chrysosplenium iowense among 2 other species of Chrysosplenium with overlapping range.

  • 01/01/2010

Protection of land in and around where populations occur is necessary to reduce the threat of habitat alteration or destruction Populations should be monitored to assess health and make predictions about long-term viability Further research in reproductive biology needs to be conducted

  • 01/01/2010

Further evaluation of genetic diversity within and among populations, using different techniques and incorporating more populations, especially those in Minnesota and Canada, needs to be initiated to guide potential restoration or introduction work. Germination and propagation protocols need to be established to make restoration or introduction work possible.


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Taxon Chrysosplenium iowense
Authority Rydb.
Family Saxifragaceae
CPC Number 938
ITIS 24193
Common Names golden saxifrage | Iowa golden saxifrage
Associated Scientific Names Chrysosplenium iowense | Chrysosplenium alternifolium ssp. iowense | Chrysosplenium alternifolium var. iowense | Chrysosplenium alternifolium var. sibiricum
Distribution From northwestern Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and in the """"Driftless Area"""" of Iowa and Minnesota. (Packer 1963)
State Rank
State State Rank
Alberta S3?
British Columbia S1
Canada No Rank
Iowa S2
Manitoba S1?
Minnesota S1
Northwest Territories SNR
Saskatchewan S1?
Ecological Relationships

Plants are not self-compatible, and require visitation by native insects in order to successfully set seed. (Weber 1979) Seed dispersal is limited to 1 meter from the host plant. (Weber 1979) Flowering is temperature dependent, with maximum flower production occurring when soil temperatures are between 11 & 12 degrees C (52-54 degrees F). (Smith 1981)


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