The first perennials to brave the elements are stalwart specimens indeed. Winter, is allegedly a finite season not an endurance travail that perpetually tarries. Spring in Winnipeg, Manitoba is fraught with delays and set-backs and false starts. When all seems hopeless, as you’re thinking you’re doomed to eternal quiescence, the remarkable transfiguration transpires. Just as you’re thinking you’ll never wear a pair of flip flops or put your down filled jacket into mothballs the sub rosa affect occurs. My favorite perennials of all are the the opening acts, the unescorted soldiers if you will, which kick off the show, launching much anticipated spring into a feverish blazon.
Pasque Flower or Manitoba Crocus
Often seen emerging or blooming in the snow, the Pasque flower belongs to the Ranunculaceae family, which is Latin for “little frog”. The name was given to the family because a group of plants in this family grow where frogs live. The Pasque flower has several stems that rise 6-8 inches off the ground. On each stem is one flower with 5-8 petals. The range of color in the petals is from dark lavender to almost white. In the center of the flower are yellow stamens. The entire plant is covered in silky hairs. The fruit of the plant is a plum that is achenial, which means that one seed is attached to the ovary wall, like a strawberry seed. The Pasque flower grows naturally in the tundra. It likes well-drained, sandy, and gravelly soils as well as roadsides. The Pasque flower, like all tundra plants, grows low to the ground in order to benefit from radiant heat in cold climates. Its fine silky hairs help insulate it from the cold.
Next champion perennial, and most likely to emerge is the valiant Leopard’s Bane Doronicum caucasicum or D. cordatum ~ was once thought to be poisonous to animals – hence the “bane” with regards to it being the scourge to small grazing animal species. The genus is from an old Arabic name for the flowers. Their long, straight stems make excellent cut flowers as they last for a number of days when placed in water. Because of their rich golden color, they are splendid for the border, for they begin blooming when most yellow flowers are still scarce. I plant them amongst tulips and muscarri, or near small flowering shrubs like dwarf Korean Lilac or dwarf plum, and in masses for high impact in late April and early May. Plant in rich loamy soil, they are equally good in shady or partial sun. Plants should be divided soon after they finish flowering. They also reseed themselves if the flowers are left to go to seed.