Found on irrigated rocks or open vegetation in shaded sites, often on mountain ledges and crags with base rich substratum. This species is not very tolerant of competition and so is found in damp crevasses where it survives in small pockets. M. nivalis is a perennial species which has been found to set seed in Scotland but not in Cumbria where the populations are small and threatened.
The plant was first described by Carl Linnaeus in Flora Lapponica (1737), as a result of his Lapland voyage.<ref>Linnaeus, Carl von. 1753. Species Plantarum 1: 401.</ref>
Some populations from the Canadian Province of Quebec have been recognized as a distinct species by some authors,<ref name="asdfksldflk">Flora of North America v 8 p 65.</ref><ref>Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1917. Rhodora 19(224): 141–142.</ref> a variety of M. nivalis others:<ref>Small, John Kunkel. 1918. North American Flora 22(6): 552.</ref><ref>Boivin, Joseph Robert Bernard. 1966. Le Naturaliste Canadien 93(5): 646.</ref>
- Saxifraga gaspensis Fernald
- Saxifraga nivalis var. gaspensis (Fernald) B. Boivin
- Micranthes gaspensis (Fernald) Small
is distinguished from var. nivalis by smaller inflorescences and narrower leaves. It is known only from the Shickshock Mountains of the Gaspé Peninsula of southeastern Québec. It has been suggested that this may be a hybrid of M. nivalis and M. tenuis; further study is warranted.<ref name="asdfksldflk"/>