Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Although never abundant, Richardson's alumroot has been found in almost every county in North Dakota. The species ranges well into the low Arctic, but does not occur much farther south than Missouri.
The thick cluster of basal leaves on this plant looks like those of the geranium. One to four leafless hairy stems grow up to two feet tall from heavy, perennial taproots. The yellowish to purple flowers occur in clusters of ten to twenty along the upper part of the stem.
Look for Richardson's alumroot around hilltops and sideslopes in native prairie. Cattle seem to avoid this plant, probably because of its astringent qualities. Nevertheless, somewhat greater numbers of plants are usually found on moderately or lightly grazed pastures, possibly because of the better soil moisture conditions there. Extracts from the roots of all the Heucheras have been used medicinally for their astringent qualities.
The saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae), of which the alumroots are members, also includes our wild currants and gooseberries. The name was compounded from the Latin saxum, "a stone," and frangere, "to break," by early medical practitioners who labored under the ancient "doctrine of signatures." The doctrine stated that plants bore structures that resembled the maladies the plants were supposed to cure. Hence, some European species bearing granular bulblets were purported to dissolve urinary concretions.
The Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) named the genus in honor of the German botanist Johann von Huecher (1677-1747). English botanist Robert Brown dedicated this North American species to science in 1823 in memory of its discoverer, Sir John Richardson.