The prairie crocus, or Pulsatilla nuttalliana, is often considered the first flower of the spring (though this year, it has been well and truly beat out by the catkins of pussy willows and balsam poplar). It is usually pale mauve or, very rarely, white. When you find one, sit still, dwell with it (please do not pick!), look to see who visits its bright yellow pollen filled centre!
Despite its name, the prairie crocus is not the same species as the European crocus, which is a member of the iris family. Our native crocus is a member of the buttercup or crowfoot family. The Cree name for the flower, mostos nitisiy, translates as “bison belly button”. I have never seen a bison’s belly button (I don’t want to get that close), but the prairie crocus helps me imagine it! Pulsatilla nuttalliana, is covered with hairs, which provide some natural insulation from the cold and retains the sun’s daytime warmth through the evening. As well, its satellite shaped flowers are models for solar ovens, able to magnify the sun’s rays and turn them to heat. Besides the flower’s shape and the plant’s furry coat, Pulsatilla nuttalliana also has deep tap roots that store its energy during the long cold prairie winters.