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A low, prostrate shrub, reaching only a few inches above the ground, the branches creeping and taking root; young shoots glabrous. Stipules wanting. Leaves obovate or lozenge-shaped, 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, 1⁄6 to 1⁄4 in. wide; tapered at the base, blunt or rounded, sometimes retuse, at the apex, not toothed, quite glabrous and green on both sides; stalk 1⁄6 in. or less long; nerves in three to six pairs. Catkins erect, stalked, cylindrical, about 2⁄3 in. long, produced at the end of short, leafy shoots in May and June. Catkin-scales oblong-obovate, obtuse, yellow or pale brown, glabrous except for occasional long hairs at the edge. Ovaries conical, glabrous, the stalk and style both short.
Native of the mountains of Europe (Pyrenees, Alps, Appenines), with a close ally in the Carpathians (S. kitaibeliana Willd.), not treated here; introduced in 1763. A neat little alpine shrub, forming close tufts in exposed places, but spreading more freely when planted in gardens. Suitable for the rock garden.
S. serpyllifolia Scop. S. retusa var. serpyllifolia (Scop.) Ser. – Closely allied to S. retusa, and is sometimes regarded as a variety of it. It differs chiefly in the smaller leaves, which in nature are only 1⁄6 to 1⁄3 in. long, forming with its stunted branches a close dense tuft. Under cultivation the plant becomes more creeping, and the leaves up to 5⁄8 in. long. They are obovate, notched, rounded or pointed at the apex; nerves two to four each side. Native of the Alps of Europe, mostly at higher altitudes than S. retusa. Both species are, in the Alps, commonest on calcareous formations.
S. × cottetii Lagger ex Kern. S. retusa × S. nigricans – A procumbent shrub with ascending branches; young stems and leaves at first hairy, becoming almost glabrous. Leaves elliptic to obovate, obtuse or slightly acute, up to 15⁄8 in. long, about half as wide, finely toothed, equally green on both sides. Catkins 5⁄8 to 7⁄8 in. long on short leafy peduncles; scales oblong-obovate, darkened at the truncate or retuse apex. Originally described from a female plant found in Switzerland. A commercial clone, male, distributed as “S. × gillotii”, has been identified as S. × cottetii.