Anyone who thinks all native plants are rambunctious and unkempt should take a look at prairie smoke.
This tidy, low-growing North American wildflower will soften your heart with its small reddish-pink to purple flowers in early spring; furry fern-like leaves that lie in a feathery clump close to the ground; and wispy seed clusters (which inspired the common name as well as regional variations like old man’s whiskers, torch flower, and lion’s beard).
Though its habit is delicate and neat, prairie smoke survives cold winters and hot, dry summers. Under the right conditions, it will even spread to form a unique ground cover.
Common name: Prairie smoke, purple avens
Botanical name: Geum triflorum
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 1 to 7
Height: About 16 inches
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Well-drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: None needed.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed and by division.
Pests and diseases
• Downy mildew, powdery mildew, leaf smut
• Some caterpillars
• Prairie smoke is beautiful in rock gardens, in front of a flower bed, or in a prairie garden.
• Like most native wildflowers, prairie smoke is tough. It will withstand drought and neglect, but won’t do well in wet or poorly drained soil.
• No cultivars available.
All in the family
Domesticated relatives of Geum triflorum are common in gardens, including G. chiloense (from Chile), G. coccineum (from the Balkans), and G. rivale (from Europe). These species have in turn given rise to hybrid forms and cultivars. Some popular cultivars are G. ‘Lady Stratheden’ (with rich golden blooms), G. ‘Mrs. J. Bradshaw’ (semi-double red flowers), and G. ‘Tangerine’.
(Photo of Geum triflorum courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)