Beaux Arbres has a few bright, lovely Pasque Flowers plants in our rock garden. We grew this beloved European spring flower from seeds from the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society Seed Exchange, and offered some of our surplus for sale. However, we long wanted to get a good supply of the North American species, the true Prairie Crocus, Manitoba’s floral emblem. We tried several times and our germination was poor for this wild North American. Last winter, we acquired some high-quality, fresh, wild-collected seed from southern Manitoba and, voilà, a fine flourish of Prairie Crocus seedlings.
The wild Prairie Crocus is paler, shorter, and even fuzzier than Pasque Flower. Wildflower enthusiasts in Manitoba start scanning south-facing, well-drained, sandy slopes in April, wanting to be the first to spot a Prairie Crocus in bloom. They often report their first up to three weeks before we get a Pasque Flower in bloom at Beaux Arbres. This gives us a clue to just how early this flower can be in a sheltered, sunny spot. Because of the subtlety of its silvery lavender colouring, Prairie Crocus is most effective grown in groups. On those dry south slopes on the Prairies, Prairie Crocus some years escapes the summer drought by going dormant, but we haven’t seen this phenomenon in our plants in the Ottawa Valley. It is good to know just how drought-tolerant Prairie Crocus can be, if you are planning a xeriscaping garden.
Prairie Crocus’s seeds are tricky to germinate, but once you are past that stage, they seem to be tough and enduring little plants, with one caveat: they are susceptible to slug predation. That suggest that, in the east, they need a dry, warm, gritty site, with perhaps a gravel mulch, certainly not any organic mulch. They are great little plants for a south-facing rock garden and perhaps for a large hypertufa trough. On the prairies, they grow in thin grassland.
Prairie Crocus grows all across the Canadian Prairies, into the northern tier of US plains states and up into Yukon and Alaska. Its range extends into north-western Ontario, but it has no claim to be native to the Ottawa Valley. We are enthusiastic about it because it extends the selection of early spring flowers for feeding newly emerged pollinators, and to cheer winter-weary gardeners, without risking the invasiveness of so many of the early spring bulbs on sale at the garden centre. (“Good for naturalizing” on the packet of Chionodoxa bulbs should be a red flag that they will escape into wild areas.)
We also have a hankering to grow all the Canadian floral emblems that we can. The Pacific Dogwood, emblem of BC, is beyond our scope, and Yukon’s Fireweed is something we hesitate to bring into the garden, although it is all over the utility corridor along the Sixth Line near our farm. Nunavut’s gorgeous Purple Saxifrage is finicky this far south, although we are game to try, if we can acquire some seed. If we are willing to accept the local Prickly Rose as a stand-in for Alberta’s Prairie Rose (possible, but too rampant in the east), the other emblems are doable, in fact we are already growing many of them.
Prairie Crocus is not, strictly, new at Beaux Arbres for Spring 2021 — sharp-eyed customers spotted the first offerings of this species last summer. We expect to have a good supply for sale this spring. Watch the website for the Availability Lists in the spring.