The annual wildflower show on the prairie usually begins in late March. It's a risky undertaking for the plants, however. Spring weather conditions are fickle. Frost and freezing temperatures are possible for another two months. But if a plant can sneak in and flower ahead of all the others, it can get the full attention of the local pollinating insects. In addition, it won't have to compete for water and sunlight. That is the strategy of the early bloomers such as the Carolina Anemone.
Microclimate is important here. The early bloomers are all quite short. They do not grow any taller than what is needed to expose their leaves to the sun and flaunt their flowers to insects. The air temperature is significantly warmer next to the ground than it is just a few inches higher up, and they take advantage of this temperature gradient. This is common practice for plants in alpine habitats and on the arctic tundra. The blossom of the Carolina Anemone seldom gets 8 inches above the ground and the leaves are all clustered at ground level.
The Carolina Anemone is a member of the Buttercup Family, which also includes Larkspur, Columbine and Clematis. It may be found throughout the tallgrass prairie region. It's close cousin, Pasque Flower (Anemone patens), is a harbinger of spring on the High Plains, and is the state flower of South Dakota.
Because of its small size, it is easier to find this species if you are looking in areas that were mowed the previous year, such as roadsides and park areas. Another good place to look is on hilltops with shallow rocky soils where the vegetation never gets very tall.
This species can sometimes be found in grassy areas within cities if they are not regularly treated with herbicides. In town, however, you are more likely to see any of several introduced "weeds" such as Dandelion, Henbit, Veronica, Shepherd's Purse, Wild Geranium or Johnny Jump-up. Several of these may be seen as early as February in Kansas.
The Carolina Anemone is a welcome herald of spring. Its blossom is a signal to get out the wildflower guides and start sharpening up your identification skills. And, with over 800 species of wildflowers in Kansas, it is much easier to figure out what you are looking at when only a few of them are present. So grab your hand lens and field guide and go have a look before it gets too crowded out there!
- This page was spun by Jim Mason -
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