A few years ago, I decided to make an Earth Day tradition of looking for the first wildflowers of spring, crocuses. One year, I could only find their fuzzy shoots tentatively breaking out of the soil on April 22. This year, a friend posted a photo on March 13 and I found crocuses of my own two days later. This year on Earth Day, only a petal remained here and there on the seedheads that look rather like Einstein’s wild hairstyle.
The beloved crocus, a prairie dweller’s most trusted harbinger of spring, is actually not a crocus: true crocuses are members of the Lily family, while our crocuses are members of the Buttercup family, according to Alberta Plant Watch. It appears that the species here on the Canadian prairies is Pulsatilla patens (or Anemone patens). Flower identification books call these sweet pale purple beauties pasque flower or prairie anemone, but I’ve never heard anyone call them that. Crocuses grow on native grasslands on the prairies and in montane regions in the mountains and require a soil fungi to thrive. I have looked for them in suitable habitats west of the Rockies, but they seem to be restricted to the prairies. The petals, leaves and stems are covered with soft fur to provide protection from the cold.
The Alberta Plant Watch webpage has a charming Blackfoot First Nations legend related by Annora Brown in Old Man’s Garden. A young man finds comfort and wisdom in a flower during his vision quest and offers to bring the flower’s three wishes to the Great Spirit:
The flower, nodding, answered. “Pray that I may have the purple blue of the distant mountains in my petals, that men may seek my company and be rested. Second let me have a small golden sun to warm my heart, to cheer me on dull days when the sun god is hidden. Last, let me have a warm coat, like your robe of fur, that I may face the cold winds that blow from the melting snow and bring men comfort and hope of warmer winds to follow.”
Crocuses certainly bring me cheer, comfort and hope when they courageously break through the hard soil and push aside the dead grass to grace a hillside with their presence. And yes, I pet them.