Native plant profile: Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)

The nodding bracts of prairie smoke (the actual flowers are hiding inside their pointy nose) blooming in May

Don’t be entirely fooled by the name. The wildflower called prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) isn’t restricted to prairies and is native to some parts of Ontario, the eastern limit of its natural range. As you’d expect, it prefers sunny, well-drained soils such as grassy fields but also withstands light shade such as at the edge of woodlands. In Ontario, it also lives in habitats called alvars, the thin soil that accumulates atop limestone bedrock, such as in the Bruce Peninsula. It’s classed as endangered here.

The red or pink bracts that conceal a tiny flower at the central tip are pretty in themselves. But the real show comes from the fluffy seed heads. A mass planting fills your garden with pinkish smoke. Hope this melts the winter storm the weatherman has ordered for tomorrow.

Geum triflorum is a member of the rose family, although its seedhead resembles the buttercup cousins pulsatilla and clematis
A large bed of prairie smoke beginning to live up to its name at the Toronto Botanical Garden, May 2011

Hunting to see “where there’s smoke” online, I notice that Wildflower Farm offers plants, though I’d have to pick up my plants in person, and am reminded that I love their wildflower plant selector. Keep your eyes open for this one. Plant sales are coming up!

16 comments

    1. Great, Lorraine, I look forward to seeing the goodies at Plant Paradise when I'm there to speak about shade plants on May 11th. My sister's car might just go home a little heavier.

  1. Thank you Toronto Gardens for your post (I believe last year) about white clover seed at Plant World in Etobicoke. We found our way there this past week and picked up the last 3 bags on their display – they were glad to hear we were there because of your recommendation ! Now our white clover lawn adventure begins in Georgetown !

  2. Helen: I love your photos of this beauty. This is one of the great drought-tolerant plants recommended by garden lecturer and tour leader Frank Kershaw in our book 'Gardening from a Hammock' for a low-maintenance garden. He likens the seed heads to a "pink puff of smoke" and says it spreads but not aggressively. Like many native plants, it also tolerates poor dry soil. And the leaves turn a nice red colour in fall.
    And thanks again for the review of our book. You can find more drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants on our book website at http://www.GardeningfromaHammock.com

  3. Nice post! I received some Geum triflorum seeds in a seed swap last fall. I've heard they are tricky to grow from seed, but I hope to get a few established in my garden this year. Those seed heads are stunning. Hope the weather turns favorable for you soon.

    1. If you're in the west end, try Plant World. They might not have stock in quite yet, but I do know they carry many varieties of Japanese maple. Give them a call.

    2. Just a suggestion – if you know what you want, Vineland Nursery has a large selection. You could contact them and arrange to pick up at their table at the May 5 Super Plant Sale being held at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

    3. Good suggestion, Laura. I will be writing about the Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society Super Plant Sale next week or the week after. But, alas, I'll be out of town for the actual sale.

  4. Helen – All praise to Prairie Smoke indeed! I find it does the very best in our scree gardens. Wildflower Farm offers the seed…. http://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?p=product&id=298&parent=1

    Your gentle readers may be unaware that Wildflower Farm no longer sells plants and is no longer running our Wildflower Garden Centre. Our extensive wildflower gardens and meadows will still be open to the public. Wildflower Farm continues to offer wildflower seeds, meadow mixes and Eco-Lawn online 24/7 and from the Wildflower Farm office Monday through Friday 9 am. to 5 pm.

    Why the dramatic change? My partner and I wish to experience something called a weekend!!! Last summer we went canoeing one Saturday afternoon together for the first time ever and we liked it. p.s. I am excited to have the time to be writing a book about Wildflowers!!! Love, — Miriam

  5. This is a plant that is definitely on my wish list. I read through the comments and think I will see if I can get it at Plant Paradise Country Gardens, which is not too far from me.

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