Pretty In Pink - What's Become Of The Old Man's Whiskers
As someone who once dyed my then blonde hair pink on a dare, it occurs to me that while I’ve seen Old Man’s Whiskers outside in nature, I’ve never seen a man (old or young) brave enough to sport a pink beard (although I’m sure some have). For a long time, this wildflower of the west and northwest, has been on its way to becoming the passenger pigeon of plant life.
In my Grandma Daisy’s lifetime, she knew it as Prairie Smoke, Pink Plums, and the name Old Man’s Whiskers. It’s a native of the vigin prairies, and it was once so abundant that its silky seed plumes softened the line of many horizons like a rosey veil.
I remember her once stopping and picking one up to show me and raving about how as a child she had come across a field of it that had not been plowed and how she wished she could have gathered it all up to keep forever.
Now it is so rarely found that few people can identify it. Maybe the plow did it in during grandma’s day, but modern sprawl has added to its demise.
Geum ciliatum (also G. triflorum), has narrow, deeply cut leaves from six to eight inches long, arising from a low basal rosette. Early in the spring, beautiful rose-pink buds appear on numerous flower stalks. If you are lucky enough to see some, it’s like nodding in agreement graceful heads standing tall among whatever else grows nearby.
Sometime after the soft rose or purplish spring flowers go away, the seeds (achenes) with long, silky pink plumes appear, giving rise to one of the plant’s common names — Pink Plumes. This is one wildflower which definitely likes civilized life.
While I don’t have any here in Florida (they prefer a dryer climate), I do know that in the past upon comparing my gardens plants with those still in the wild, this is one wildflower that under cultivation has improved with mankinds care.
Not only are the leaves more numerous and have a better color, but the buds become larger, rosier, and more abundant. The wild plants bloom only once per season, and only in the spring and then go dormant. Meanwhile, the cultivated plants bloomed lavishly in the spring, intermittently through the summer, and put on a fine show again, in the fall.
Cultivated varieties, if you are lucky enough to live where they thrive grow under ordinary garden conditions. They get the same care as the common perennial — clean cultivation, an occasional feeding, and water during dry spells.
In fact, they require much less care than most perennials. They are disease-free, and insects neer bother them — always a plus in my opinion. Propagation is best secured through division in late summer and early fall, although seeding is also an option.
Old Man’s Whiskers can be used in much the same manner in the garden as Heuchera or Mertensia. A clump or tow of it grown next to dwarf blue irises provides an early spring picture that will thrill any on-looker.