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The Prairie Crocus-Harbinger of Spring

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

A harbinger is defined by Oxford as “a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.”

Many things on the farm could be considered a harbinger of spring. From the newborn animals (see our #FarmBabies20 contest) to running water to my favourite, the prairie crocus.

An early sign of spring, the prairie crocus (anemone patens) is the first plant to bloom on the prairies each year. It is the first flower of the season. (Of interest, some years the crocus can be found on the prairies as early as March.) Known for it’s beautiful, but delicate appearing mauve bloom, the crocus is actually quite hardy and can be found pushing its buds through snow. On the farm, it meant that spring had arrived, and warmer days were just around the corner. It symbolized new growth, new opportunities and was a reason to get outside and explore the prairie.

Every year, usually by mid-April, we would roam the hills on our farm looking for the first crocuses. This pursuit was often an event involving our neighbouring farm family’s children and a great deal of adventure. It seemed that every year there were pictures taken of happy, carefree children seated beside a bunch of crocuses – the life of a farm kid is pretty terrific. On a good year the photo would be taken in an entire area blanketed with crocuses.

As children we would pick bouquets for our mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen tables. As we got older, we would dig out a clump and transplant them to a pot, often a sour cream or other round, plastic container, that would instead hold the coveted placement on the kitchen table. These transplanted beauties would live for several weeks with some care and attention.

The prairie crocus is well known and an important symbol not only in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and not only to this prairie girl. In fact, the prairie crocus is the floral emblem of Manitoba and South Dakota.

The crocus also has special meaning to Indigenous people. For a fascinating look at the crocus’s importance in Indigenous culture, we encourage you to go “Crocus Hunting in Alberta” with Hal Eagletail of the Tsuut’ina Nation.


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