A Little Bit Western


What’s Up, Buttercup?

Apr 15, 2017

Pasque flower. Wind flower. Prairie anemone. Anemone patens. Does a crocus by any other name smell as sweet?

There is no rite of spring quite like the discovery of the first crocus. I’m sure at this moment sitting on many a table across southwest Saskatchewan, there are crocuses in teacups, tiny vases, or bowls. Excited children like to bring back fistfuls of the pretty purple flowers, and even the occasional thoughtful spouse will think to stoop down and grab a few while they are out fencing.

Every Saskatchewanite seems to have fond memories of hunting for crocuses across the grasslands. The enthusiasm and interest that these little flowers generate gives me hope that deep down, people still have a connection to the original natural resource in our part of the world – native prairie. Crocuses, while occasionally found elsewhere, usually live on prairie grassland, because they rely on special bacteria to help the plants acquire nutrients so they can survive. Of course, they can randomly pop up elsewhere, including in my parents’ farmyard, where they discovered a crocus sprouting by the shop. The land had been cropped for decades before my parents established a yard site there, so where and how this crocus came to be is still a bit of a mystery.

Like most people, I too have fond memories hunting for crocuses on the big rock pile hill in one of our fields. Other times, long walks during Easter gatherings with my cousins always yielded a bounty of crocuses, not to mention excellent conversations. Last year was probably my favourite great crocus hunt of all, because almost all of my nieces and nephews joined in on a lovely evening walk to pick the fuzzy forbs.

The prairie crocus isn’t actually a crocus at all, in fact it is part of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. The plant itself is considered to be mildly poisonous although I would like to state that pretty much every plant is poisonous, depending on the dose. Cattle or sheep or humans would have to eat so much of the plant that even if you were intentionally trying to poison yourself, you’d get fatigued before you even got close to accomplishing your goal. But still. Don’t eat things you see growing in the wild.

Indigenous people use to make a poultice of the crushed leaved to reduce skin irritation from wounds or burns. I also read that sometimes a special crocus recipe was ingested to induce vomiting or purging, and one count indicates that in small doses, apparently crocus functioned as an aphrodisiac of sorts. Yet another book indicated that holding a crocus flower to one’s nose will stop nosebleeds. I think I’ll just stick with enjoying their beauty.

I haven’t yet gone on my annual pilgrimage this spring, but I’ll soon take a walk to see what I can find. Crocuses won’t be around for long, and before I know it, all that will remain on the hillsides will be little fluffy seed heads, looking like puffs of smoke, just waiting for the wind to take this buttercup to a new potential home.

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