- The Harbinger Of Spring
Pulsatilla patens, Anemone patens)
by Kristl Walek
Pulsatilla ludoviciana has a wide distribution
throughout the northern latitudes. In Canada it is native from Ontario
to BC and north to Nunavut, being most prevalent in the prairies. It
is hardy to at least –45°C.
In the wild it grows in tall and mixed-grass prairies to rocky mountain
slopes and in dry woodlands. It prefers sunny, hot, dry areas. It is
usually the first wildflower to emerge after winter, often blooming
through the melting snow. This can be as early as March. The opening
of its delicate mauve petals is a sure sign of spring.
The term "Crocus" in its common name is a misnomer
applied by early settlers to a plant that reminded them of the bulbous
European crocus they knew from home. There are similarities: the Prairie
Crocus’s goblet-shaped blossoms do resemble that of the crocus,
and both plants poke through late snow to herald a new season. Prairie
Crocus emerges from the ground as a hairy flower bud surrounded by furry
leaves. When the purple sepals open they reveal bright yellow stamens
inside. Flowering is normally at or near ground level. The flowers open
in sunshine and close in the evening or in cloudy weather. Over time,
the flower stem lengthens and the hairy leaves fully expand. After pollination,
the stem can be 30cm tall. Flowering lasts about two weeks. The long,
feathery seeds, characteristic of the genus, ripen by summer. Prairie
Crocus is a long-lived perennial with a thick woody taproot. Individual
plants can live for 50 years or more and a large specimen can be 30cm
across and boast more than 40 blossoms.
Prairie Crocus was officially adopted as the floral emblem of the province
of Manitoba by Royal Assent on March 16, 1906. Accordingly, "The
flower known botanically as the Anemone patens, and popularly
called the crocus, shall be adopted as and deemed to be the floral emblem
of the province." The flower was chosen by Manitoba school children.
The state of Dakota also picked this species as its floral emblem.
Pulsatilla ludoviciana is relatively easy from seed. Spear
the pointed seed into the soil, moisten it and watch it spiral itself
deeper into the soil (an interesting adaptation to survival in the dry
habitats where it grows). Seedlings normally emerge in 2-4 weeks. Young
plants spend their first few years forming an extensive root system
(an important adaptation for this drought resistant plant). Flowering
is normally in the third season, a small period of time to wait, as
Prairie Crocus will grace your landscape for most of your lifetime after