Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
One of our earlier and more interesting spring wildflowers is prairie smoke or Geum triflorum. Some other common names for the plant include torch flower, old man’s whiskers, and purple avens. The plant will be in bloom from now until the end of June.
Prairie smoke is a native perennial member of the rose family, although the casual observer would not see many similarities with roses. The plant produces rather small drooping reddish-pink to purplish flowers (about a half inch long) that are typically produced in threes at the top of the stem which grows to a height of a foot or so. Even when mature the flowers appear as though they are just about to open, but they don’t. It is interesting to note that the flowers are pollinated by bees which can force themselves through the clustered petals to access the pollen and nectar within.
Prairie smoke is native to much western North America and eastward in southern Canada and the northern states. It is occasional-common in North Dakota, but is strangely either underreported or missing from the south-central part of our state. Prairie smoke may be found on a wide variety of habitats ranging from upland prairie to prairie hillsides and low meadows. It is perhaps most abundant on well drained medium textured soils.
If the flowers of prairie smoke don’t catch your attention the seedheads will. They are quite photogenic, and resemble the seedheds of pasqueflower. As the flowers wither and the seeds begin to form the slender styles of the flowers elongate to perhaps two or more inches in length and form a sort of feathery reddish gray tail. Collectively they are said to resemble wisps of smoke or perhaps a small feather duster. Evan at a distance they are quite noticeable and attractive. Many of this plant’s common names are references to the seedheads: torch flower, long-plumed purple avens, prairie smoke, lion’s beard, and old man’s whiskers.
Prairie smoke is one of a handful of our native prairie wildflowers that is gaining popularity as a garden perennial. Both plants and seeds can now be purchased online as well as at many garden centers. If you are planning developments to your perennial flower garden, give some consideration to adding this interesting native member of the rose family.
Click here for a description and photographs of prairie smoke from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Washington.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.