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A tiny shrub (the smallest of all British ones), reaching rarely more than 2 in. above the ground (3 or 4 in. in gardens); stems glabrous, or slightly silky when young, creeping and taking root and often buried in the soil. Leaves usually only two or three at the end of the twig; round, broadly oval or obovate, 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. long, finely round-toothed, often notched at the apex and indented at the base, glossy green on both sides and usually glabrous, sometimes slightly silky when young, prominently net-veined; shortly but distinctly stalked. Catkins 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. long, appearing in April on short stalks; scales yellow or brown. Stamens two. Ovary glabrous or nearly so, conic.
Native of the mountains of Europe, including the northern British Isles, west through Iceland to N. America, where it occurs in Arctic regions and extends south on the Atlantic side to the mountains of New England and the Adirondacks. In spite of its name it is a true shrub, and makes an interesting tuft for a damp spot in the rock garden.
S. × cernua E. F. Linton S. herbacea × S. repens – A prostrate shrub, the young growths at first densely coated with appressed hairs, becoming glabrous and brown. Leaves oblong or ovate, to about 3⁄4 in. long, dark green and glossy, almost glabrous, above, prominently veined and usually coated with appressed hairs beneath, margins entire or finely toothed. Catkins with the leaves; scales sparsely hairy. Ovaries narrowly flask-shaped, varying from glabrous to densely downy, with a short style. This hybrid occurs occasionally in the mountains of Scotland.
S. × grahamii Borrer ex Baker – A hybrid of S. herbacea discovered by Prof. Graham (d. 1845) at Frouvyn in Sutherland, introduced to cultivation by him, and described in 1867 from specimens in the Borrer herbarium. It is a procumbent shrub of which only female forms are known. The leaves are elliptic-oblong to rounded, up to about 11⁄2 in., green and very sparsely hairy on both sides, with faintly toothed slightly wavy margins and a somewhat bent, acuminate tip. Stipules present, often persistent on strong shoots. Catkins 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long; scales roundish, edged with red. Ovary thinly hairy, the long style and stigma reddish.
S. × grahamii – Meikle (op. cit., pp. 126-9, considers that this is a triple hybrid: S. aurita × S. herbacea × S. repens.
† S. × ovata Ser. – A hybrid of S. herbacea, described from Switzerland, of which the other parent is either S. glaucosericea or S. helvetica. The female clone in commerce as S. ovata appears to be S. herbacea × S. helvetica.