Crocus Prairie

On Sunday, April 14, 2024, we walked out on Crocus Prairie. The weather was sunny, balmy, and there were crowds of people on the prairie to observe the crowds of crocuses! Many of those people visit Crocus Prairie regularly, to watch for the earliest signs of crocuses emerging from the cold prairie earth. Sandra and I had been out there on April 4, looking for them. We found the wee nubs, the furry little crocus tops, as they hunkered down waiting for a day like the 14th to open in their full beauty. 

When looking for crocus nubbins, look for any darker spots on the prairie grass. The leaves from last year’s crocuses are dark, and new nubbins are emerging from that plant. The older the plant, the more flowers it will produce (and the larger the dark area from last year’s leaves). The photo below was taken April 4, 2024. Notice the tiny hairs on the nubbins. The hairs capture the daytime heat and help protect the crocus flower from temperature changes.

So many people had learned that crocuses had opened, early in the morning of April 14, because they were following Peter Baran on the Northeast Swale Nature Saskatoon Facebook page. He regularly photographs amazing sights on the Swale and keeps his followers up to date with what is happening. Crocus Prairie is contiguous with Saskatoon Natural Grasslands, which is contiguous with the Swale. Unfortunately, these natural areas are interrupted by roads. Small and large mammals cross these spaces, birds might fly low, and reptiles and amphibians might also attempt the dangerous crossing. Slow down and save a life.

Shortly after taking the above photo of the crocuses, this is what happened in Saskatoon. Oh dear. As I noted in an Adventure in Spring 2023: It is that time of year!

I did walk out on the prairie but did not take my camera out of my pocket. This snow was only the beginning of a storm which brought much more snow over one and a half more days.

Fortunately, the crocuses are made to survive late spring snowfalls. They have hairs, they grow low to the ground, and, when I went out to get a photo of them emerging from the snow, I learned that they grow in those places that shuck the snow earliest. Of course they do. They are not stupid!

Crocuses are a prairie plant, comfortable in the cold, and adapted to dry prairie conditions. They are wonderful in the garden, too, if we can find just the right spot for them. You can often get crocus seedlings from Blazing Star Seed Company (located in Aberdeen, often selling at the Farmers Market). I realize that I made a planting error for my crocuses, putting them beside my sidewalk where the snow from the walks gets heaped on them. They emerge much later than the crocuses on the prairie. Clearly, the crocuses are more sensitive to their needs than I was! My next plantings will be in a location more favourable for early flowering.

I walk on Crocus Prairie nearly every week. The proximity to the river means that my dog can swim (in the off-leash area) on hot days in summer, and get a drink of water. It also means there are many species of water birds. The riparian area by the river offers a huge variety of native plant species and one can find amphibians here. Be alert for them! The forest that is on the hill between the river and the prairie provides homes for numerous birds. I have my Merlin phone app attuned to pick up their calls, as I learn more about what the different species sound like at different times of the year. In the winter, the most common bird for me to notice is the Common Goldeneye, or, the “bird with the squeaky wings”. A substantial number remain on the river in Saskatoon in the winter, enjoying the open (and very cold!) water.

By Janet McVittie, with Sandra Walker, and Nikki Moggey

Where to look for crocuses in and
around Saskatoon 

  • Crocus Prairie
  • Cranberry Flats
  • Saskatoon Natural Grasslands
  • Northeast Swale
  • Beaver Creek along the Blue Trail

Other Nature City Adventures that relate to this one:

Miyoskamin Adventure

Seeking Crocus Adventure

For this last picture (learning from my walking partner, Nikki), I hunkered down low, to the height of the crocuses, to get the dramatic mauve on the outside of the flowers, to catch the shadows thrown by the evening sun, and to see the hairs in silhouette.

Crocus Prairie is one of the Meewasin Valley’s feature parks. You can make a long walk of it, by starting at the parking lot for the Sutherland Beach off-leash dog park, and walking west down to the west gate, then heading north, to access Crocus Prairie. Once you reach the crusher dust path, remember that dogs MUST be on leash, and throughout Crocus Prairie. Since the trail on Crocus Prairie is made of crusher dust, it is wheelchair and stroller friendly. If you are with a wheelchair or stroller, you are best to access Crocus Prairie from the Crocus Prairie parking lot, which is on the west side of Central Avenue, just north of the Regional Psychiatric Centre. There is a bike route along Central Avenue, so Crocus Prairie can be accessed by bike as well.

How to get there

Access: drive north along Central Avenue, north of Attridge Drive. On the west side of the road, you will see the sign for the Crocus Prairie parking lot. The lot is smallish, but normally has a lot of room.

Alternatively, if you possibly can, you can travel there by bicycle. There is a bike route from the Stew Uzelman pedway under the Circle Drive bridge, which goes along Circle Drive (protected from the cars by the median and a fence, with a crossing at Preston Avenue (cross with care, please). If you ride on the south side of Preston Crossing shopping centre, behind the buildings, you will see the overpass over Circle Drive. From here, you can access Central Avenue, and ride along the bike route to Crocus Prairie parking lot.

An alternative route is, again starting at the Stew Uzelman pedway, to head north and go under the Circle Drive bridge to the Sutherland Beach off-lease park. It is likely easiest to head down towards the beach at the first opportunity, but before you get to the beach, you will see an old cross-country ski trail called the “Dog Leg”. Ride carefully along here, as there are dog walkers, and dogs running off-leash. Eventually, the trail will return to the height of land, and shortly after, you will intercept the crusher dust trail that is part of Crocus Prairie.

When riding or walking on the lower trails, please use caution. Cyclists and walkers share these trails and visibility is obscured by hills, corners, and trees!

For more information: Check out the Saskatoon Nature Society’s A Guide to Nature Viewing Sites In and Around Saskatoon, available on loan from the Saskatoon Public Library and for purchase at Turning the Tide and McNally Robinson bookstores and directly from the Saskatoon Nature Society, purchase the book here.