Dakota Gardener: Signs of Spring

Birds returning and singing, trees starting to bud, the smell of the soil, bulbs emerging and crocus blooming are signs of spring in North Dakota.

My 98-year-old great aunt always says that spring is here when the mesquite trees start to bud and the bluebonnets bloom. That works fine in Texas where mesquite trees and bluebonnets are common, but here in North Dakota, there are other signs that point to spring.

To help this native Texan understand what the signs of spring are in North Dakota, I did an office poll. Birds returning and singing, trees starting to bud, the smell of the soil, bulbs emerging and crocus blooming were the common answers.

As it turns out, the crocus that we see on the North Dakota prairie is a different flower than the traditional crocus. Both are early spring-blooming flowers, have a bulb-like structure and grow in North Dakota.

One of the main differences between these two flowers is the root structure. The prairie crocus, or pasqueflower, is a member of the buttercup family and spreads by rhizomes, whereas the crocus is a member of the iris family and grows from corms.

Rhizome plants, such as the prairie crocus and asparagus, spread by having the main stem run underground and then sending up sprouts for each new plant. These rhizomes allow the plant to store nutrients under the soil and overwinter. Rhizome plants can cluster together and then be separated by cutting the rhizome into different sections and replanting.

Corms, such as the crocus and gladiolus, are a type of compressed stem. Similar to rhizomes, corms store food to overwinter. Unlike rhizomes, corms have a bud on top of the food storage tissue. Corms also differ from rhizomes in how they reproduce. Rhizomes spread laterally and can have multiple shoots on one rhizome. Corms also form laterally, with the new corm forming on top of the old corm. Tiny cormels will form around the old corms. These cormels can be separated and used to start new plants.

Neither the prairie crocus nor the crocus are true bulbs, but rather bulb-like plants. True bulbs are divided into two categories, scaley and tunicate. Tunicate bulbs have a "tunic" or papery outer layer. A few plants in this category include tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Scaley bulbs do not have a paper outer layer and include plants such as the Asiatic lily. True bulbs can be propagated similarly to corms; the true bulb will form bulbils that can be removed to start a new plant.

Regardless of the root system or bulb type, when the soil thaws and begins to warm in the spring, these plants start to emerge forming new stems and flowers ready to bring us springtime joy.


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