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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Pasque flowers and prairie lilies dot early spring landscapes

They're a little like me; prairie plants don't like to wake up too early.  The best time to see them doesn't start until late in May.  However, there are a couple of early birds.

Pasque flowers, Pulsatilla, are the first.  Although I've seen them in bloom as early as February 28, they typically pop up in March or early April.  The name "Pasque" comes to us from the Hebrew word for "Passover" (Pasakh) and reminds us that the flower usually blooms around Easter.  In our next of the woods, the best place to enjoy them is Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa.  take a glance at the accompanying photo and look for them at Cuming City Cemetery this spring.  Please let me know when and where you find them (pollockg@cox.net).  Notoriously fussy, Pasque flowers prefer dry soil, which generally precludes planting them in lawns.  Occasionally, you'll see Pasque flower plants for sale - most varieties I've seen available for purchase around here are of Russian heritage.  There are about 33 Pasque flower cousins around the world.

The other early bird, which appears around mid-April, is the prairie trout lily, erythronium mesochoreum, not to be confused with its close cousin, the woodland trout lily, erythronium albidum.  At one time, these two plants were thought to be the same species.  But with the advent of DNA sequencing, scientists learned that the two species possess different sets of chromosomes.  They look alike but act very differently.  Prairie lilies like the sun, for example, while woodland lilies prefer shade, which is just one of many differences.  Prairie lilies are not as common because much of their habitat is disappearing.  I have found a few in prairie pioneer cemeteries in Iowa and on the Bauermeister Prairie in Omaha.  They are easy to grow from seed in the right habitat.  Good soil in the backyard works well; in fact, I have over 100 in my backyard.  However, they live only a short time, appearing in April and going dormant by June 1.

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