The Plant Native

Prairie Smoke

Highlights

This plant’s common name—Prairie Smoke—delightfully hints at its atmospheric, other-worldly appearance. Prairie Smoke’s delicate drooping flowers come first, followed by fluffy seed plumes—which look like tiny puffs of pale pink smoke, if the smoke was drawn by Joan Miró. These are short groundcover plants that look best when planted in groups alongside other native flowers and shrubs. Scroll on for planting tips!

Full Sun – Part Sun
12-18″ tall
Fluffy plumes appear in summer
Geum triflorum
Prairie Smoke's flowers hang down like little sculptural bells in the spring

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Prairie Smoke

Table of Contents

You may ask: where has this plant been hiding?

It is a mystery why we have cherry festivals and tulip festivals, and somehow it’s extremely rare to see our own incredible native Prairie Flower. Once you see one, you want dozens in your yard. It is one of those native plants that is so singularly special, it stops everyone in their tracks when they see it.

There are many reasons for Prairie Smoke’s rareness—non-native landscaping trends, fetishization of exotic plants, etc. The way to bring it back is to plant it in our yards and landscapes.

What are the benefits of planting Prairie Smoke?

There are so many benefits to having Prairie Smoke in your landscape, including:

  • Super low maintenance: Prairie Smoke needs minimal care to thrive
  • Comes back year after year: this is a perennial, or a plant that comes back year after year from the same roots. So plant once and enjoy for years!
  • Drought-tolerant: after Prairie Smoke is established (it normally takes the first year), this plant can handle dry periods in the summer
  • Instagrammable beauty. Beauty matters! A gorgeous landscape with native flowers lifts spirits. Plant a patch of Prairie Smoke and see for yourself.
When the seed feathers first emerge, they are wrapped around, like fairy giftwrap

The many names of Prairie Smoke

One of the common names used for this plant is Prairie Smoke. A common name is a plant name given by the generations that came before us. Common names can refer to the way a plant looks, its medicinal value, or even named after a celebrity of the time.

Oftentimes, a single plant can have many common names (this is why the singular Latin name is so helpful!) This one plant goes by the following common names: Prairie Smoke, Old Man’s Whiskers, Torch Flower, Lion’s Beard, Long-Plumed Avens, and Three-Flowered Avens. (Avens means red in Latin.)

If you want to be sure you’re looking at the right plant, look for its Latin name: Geum triflorum.

Prairie Smoke through the seasons

You see the full spectrum of nature’s creativity when you see a Prarie Smoke native flower transition through the seasons. Here’s how this native perennial changes throughout its growing season:

Prairie Smoke flowers hang down from delicate stalks
Late winter / Early Spring

Prairie Smoke starts with gorgeous green leaves, low to the ground. The leaf shape is striking: dense yet articulated leaves look like were cut from paper.

Prairie Smoke flowers hang down from delicate stalks
Spring

In the late spring (May/June) Prairie Smoke flowers appear on delicate stalks, looking like tiny fairy bells. (Brooklyn Botanic Garden describes the flower shape as “miniature serpents rearing their heads.”) 

Prairie Smoke's wispy post-flower trails are bananas when seen up close
Summer

After the flowers open and fade, the smoke appears in the form of long strands of feathery hairs. These seed plumes stay on the plant for 4-6 weeks. The greenery stays verdant during this time.

Added bonus: Prairie Smoke is deer-proof

Deer do NOT eat Prairie Smoke! If you’re worried about deer nibbling your garden, these are a perfect native plant. 

How to grow Prairie Smoke:

There are a few tips for growing this native plant, including:

  • According to Wisconsin Horticulture, “It needs moist conditions in spring, tolerates drier conditions in summer, and does not like to be wet in winter. A southern or western exposure is best.” Or, to say it another way…
  • SUN: Prairie Smoke thrives in a wide variety of sunlight, from full sun to part sun.
  • WATER: Prairie Smoke likes a well-drained area. According to Prairie Nursery: “Wet and soggy winter conditions may cause the plants to die back.”
  • Do NOT mulch around the plant. It likes to a well drained, not too wet area.
Prairie Smoke's native range starts in New York and goes westward. Map from the USDA

Where is Prairie Smoke native?

Prairie Smoke is native from New York west to California. In part due to  climate change, it is also now growing in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast gardens.

The Humber Arboretum has a great overview video with planting tips alongside some examples of what it looks like in landscaping:

Where to find Prairie Smoke for your garden

Now that you’ve fallen in love with Prairie Smoke, you’re ready to find some to plant in your garden. 

Sadly, finding specific native plants can be challenging, especially at conventional plant nurseries. To make this a little easier, here are four ideas to find some Prairie Smoke for your yard:

Prairie Smoke

Where can I find seeds and plants?

Finding native plants can be challenging (we partly blame Marie Antoinette.) To make it easier, we’ve assembled four sourcing ideas.

Native Plant Nurseries

Our list of native nurseries makes finding one a breeze

Online Communities

Local Facebook groups are a great plant source

Now that you’ve found some ideas for sourcing Prairie Smoke, let’s keep garden planning and add some other native plants and flowers.

Now you’re probably asking…

What are good pairings for Prairie Smoke?

Prairie Smoke is best paired with other native perennials that like the same dry conditions but flower at different times. This ensures your garden always has something in bloom and the pollinators always have something to eat. Great pairings include Blazing Star, Rattlesnake Master, coneflowers, many species of native milkweed, and the grasses Little Bluestem and Purple Muhly Grass.

Native flowers for the summer

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Bee Balm

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Black-Eyed Susan

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Blazing Star

monarch-on-butterfly-weed-the-plant-native

Butterfly Weed

butterfly-on-common-milkweed-the-plant-native

Common Milkweed

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Coneflower

Native flowers for the fall

And now you’re ready to plant a few Prairie Smoke native plants in your garden! These native flowers look great as borders or in large groupings, thanks to their short height. They may be difficult to find in conventional plant nurseries; call ahead or visit a native-specific nursery to find some. Or better yet—start from seed in the early spring and watch them come back year after year. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
04/18/2024
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