Saturday, 3 April 2010

Pasqueflower resurrection

Prairie crocus and the Peace River: photo by Nick, Fort St. John BC, courtesy of UBC Botanical Garden
First to appear, the prairie crocus (anemone patens) can grow through ice. To those of us who have lived amid the harsh weather of the Great Plains, it is a sign of hope and rebirth. That is probably how it earned the name Pasqueflower, one of many Easter blooms that symbolize resurrection.

Doug Collicutt writes in Nature North: It always warms my heart to stroll along the trails amid last year’s brown grasses and glimpse the mauve petals and bright yellow centers of prairie crocuses staring up at me. After months of cold and snow, they truly are the harbingers of spring. It’s no wonder that the first peoples and then the pioneers had such affection for this plant. The petals act like a parabolic reflector concentrating the sun’s rays at the flower center. The thick coat of tiny hairs covering the flower help to hold in this warmth. The center of a crocus flower, containing the reproductive parts, can be 10°C above the surrounding air temperatures. There are advantages to flowering early in spring, but there is a down-side, too. The crocus gains the full attention of available pollinators, and its seeds ripen so early that they can be dispersed and start to grow right away. Of course, the main drawback is the potential to get caught by a severe frost [which] can damage them and eliminate seed production for that year... please don’t dig them up from the wild. They have deep root systems and don’t transplant well, and anywhere they still grow must be good native prairie which should always be left alone.

The Lakota have a prairie crocus song (probably the "prairie smoke", aka "old man's whiskers", geum triflorum):
Hoksj-Cekpa Wahca (baby's navel plant)
Firstborn, I sing hope to children of other flower nations now appearing.
When they wake up and rise from Mother Earth, I stand here old and greyhaired
Prairie Smoke: photo courtesy Prairiemoon
See also: Wikipedia on Pasque flower; USDA on geum triflorum; more stories and photos in Nature North.

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