Plant of the Week
Sweetflower Rock Jasmine (Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata)
By Charmaine Delmatier, 2016
Sweetflower rock jasmine (Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata) is a diminutive unassuming cushion plant in North America, found throughout much of western Canada and the Rocky Mountains of the United States. With her recent treatment in Flora of North America (FNA), Sylvia Kelso, suggests the Rocky Mountain representatives of Androsace chamaejasme have been treated as Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata based on the more apparent keeled leaf-blade midrib. This characteristic seems to appear when located in more exposed sites on Rocky Mountain tundra venturing farther north into Alaska and Canada, but it disappears when located in sheltered sites on the tundra. The keeled feature seems to disappear in transplant gardens at lower elevations. In theory, the leaves relax and become more open, spreading to almost flat, and losing the (carinate) keel that distinguishes the Rocky Mountain subspecies. For this reason, FNA treats sweetflower rock jasmine as Androsace chamaejasme ssp. lehmanniana. We will also consider these two synonymous.
Sweetflower rock jasmine prefers rocky ridges and slopes in open habitats in high alpine tundra between 8,500 and 11,700 feet. Sometimes you might spot sweetflower rock jasmine in a dry rocky meadow or in the cover of other high-mountain cushion plants or alpine subshrubs such as manzanita (bearberry).
Three to six small white flowers sit atop a short stem with no leaves, or scape, usually between 2-4 inches tall. The somewhat softly haired basal leaves are arranged into rosettes, often in triplets. The flowers are no wider than a third of an inch but boast a showy face for such a small perennial herb. Between the sweet fragrance and beautiful yellow to orange flower center, it is no wonder it received its common, sweetflower rock jasmine.
Sweetflower rock jasmine belongs to the primrose family, Primulaceae. There are 20 genera and about 600 species worldwide, stretching from temperate to arctic regions in North America, Mexico, and the West Indies, into Central America, South America, and Eurasia. The largest genus is Primula with 500 species and then Androsace with 100 species. Of those, only five Androsace are found in North America, from Alaska into western Canada and south to Wyoming. Androsace seems to follow the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. More specifically in Canada, sweetflower rock jasmine can be found in Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut (Canada’s most recent and largest territory), and the Yukon. In the United States, it is distributed across Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
The genus Androsace is mostly represented in Eurasia, with most of its diversity in China. There, with over 70 species, it is popular in rock gardens. The entire primrose family is popular for its ornamental flowers, specifically Dodecatheon and Primula. However, the down side to its aesthetic charisma, Primula can cause dermatitis.
Many remedies associated with the Primrose family have been reported for several centuries; how their oils bring relief from pain and inflammation, which often transfers to positive effects on uterine muscles, the nervous system, and metabolism. The bark and leaves can be used as an astringent or sedative, and provides relief for gastro-intestinal disorders, whooping cough and asthma. A tea made, from the roots, can be used for obesity. A finely ground powder made from the flowering stems is used cosmetically in facemasks to counteract irritated and reddened skin.