It is truly spring when the prairie crocus blooms

Patricia Hanbidge

It is truly spring when we can go on a crocus hunt! If you have not yet gone to see our native prairie crocus (Anemone patens) then you need to begin this age-old spring ritual. You will need to find a piece of natural prairie, which is not as easy as it sounds. The prairie crocus is the first colour we see each spring on any patch of native prairie. Often we see it as the snow is melting and sometimes we get a late snowfall htat makes for amazing memories captured by a camera.

As with all native plants that have been growing for so many years, when conditions are not good for growth, the plant will simply stay dormant until the proper conditions arise. Thus in the spring when we had an extremely dry summer and fall, you will not see these pretty mauve coloured gems grow at all. Once the bloom is over, and the prairie grasses begin to grow, the crocus will begin to prepare for winter. By mid-July there is usually no sign that the crocus was ever there on the surface of the grassland. The prairie crocus thus avoids the dry summer months as well as avoiding competition with the grasses.

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It is interesting that the prairie crocus is not really a crocus but actually a long-lived perennial with a thick taproot. Each plant will live for 50 years or more and these beauties will often be a good foot or so in diameter. You will also see the crocus spread by self-planting its seeds. If you look closely the seeds are shaped like tiny spears that are covered with backward facing hairs. The long tail on the seed is “hydrophilic,” which means that when it is exposed to different moisture conditions the fibres that make up the tail will expand or contract. This tiny movement, with the help of the backward facing hairs, will gently push the crocus seed into the ground, self-planting the seed.

The prairie crocus is designed in such a way as to survive fluctuating spring temperatures. The flowers are saucer-shaped with reflective petals which helps them reflect any heat to the centre of the flower which helps to raise the temperature enough to allow seed production to occur. It is often as much as 10 degrees difference of within the flower compared to the outside air. This is also a refuge on cool days for those insects that are doing essential pollination early in the year.

If you are interested in growing prairie crocus in your landscape understand the seeds are slow to germinate and the plant itself takes time to get established. If you do plant, expect that you will need up to five years before you see a spring show. They prefer a well-drained sandy soil in full sun. If you are looking to purchase seed, my favourite go-to place is Prairie Originals http://www.prairieoriginals.com/ in Manitoba.

Happy spring!

— Hanbidge is a horticulturist with the Saskatoon School of Horticulture and can be reached at 306-931-GROW(4769); by email at growyourfuture@gmail.com; facebook: @schoolofhort; twitter: @hortiuclturepat; instagram: patyplant or check out our website at saskhort.com.

 

 

 

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