Widespread and common across prairie grasslands and in the Rocky Mountains, this flower is among the first to bloom in spring. It is distinctively covered with silky hairs, and legend tells that the Great Spirit gave the crocus its fur coat to keep it warm during cold spring nights. (Royer and Dickinson 184) The Blackfoot name, Napi, or old man, refers to the grey, silky, ripe seed-heads that look like the grey heads of old men. (Johnston 35)
According to Kershaw, all parts of the plant are poisonous, and irritating to the skin if externally applied. (244) Both Kershaw (244) and Johnston (35) claim that the leaves were used as a counter-irritant for rheumatism, bruises and sore muscles.
Some herbalists today prescribe an alcohol extract as an anti-depressant sedative; however, Kershaw cautions this should not be used during pregnancy. (244) Hungry Wolf reports the Blackfoot made a tea from the roots to speed childbirth, or to cause abortion. (18)
Growth habit and range: This is a low growing, but erect herbaceous perennial plant which is widely found on open prairie sites in the southern portion of the province. It grows to a height of 8–20 cm.
Description: Prairie crocus is one of the first flowers to appear on the prairie in spring. The flowers appear before the leaves, from April to June. Each blossom is borne on a densely hairy stem, is coloured pale purple to blue or occasionally white, and measures 4–6 cm in diameter. There are 5–7 elliptical, petal-like sepals, one long, greenish, soft style and numerous yellow stamens per flower. The leaves are mostly basal, finely divided, and of a grey-green colour due to the presence of many hairs. Each flowering stem bears a whorl of similar leaves which are situated just below the flower. The fruit is a club-shaped achene measuring 3–4 mm in length, with an attached 2–4 cm long feather-like style.
Hungry Wolf, Adolf. 1989. Teachings of Nature. Good Medicine Books, BC.
Johnston, Alex. 1987. Plants and the Blackfoot. Occasional Paper No. 15., Lethbridge Historical Society, AB.
Kershaw, Linda. 2000. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies. Lone Pine Publishing, AB.
Royer, France and Richard Dickinson. 2007. Plants of Alberta. Lone Pine Publishing, AB.