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Visit to JJ Collett in April

The J.J. Collett Natural Area is one of our natural gems here in Alberta. Situated NE of Lacombe and SE of Morningside, it is a section of rolling sandy aspen parkland with a strong admixture of white spruce. It is part of the Alberta Government Parks system but is looked after by a Foundation of volunteer workers. There is a network of nine hiking trails, starting from a parking lot on the south side. It even has a website – http://www.jjcollett.com/ which, in my opinion is outstanding and well worth visiting.

While hiking in the area on Saturday (April 3) morning. I found and photographed a clump of the above native flower.This is one of a small group of plants where the flowers come before the leaves, then the leaves shrivel up and are gone by early summer. This appears to be an adaptation to allow the plants access to soil minerals before other plants get going, and to protect the plants from summer and fall grazing.

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The Prairie Crocus is the provincial emblem of Manitoba and the State flower of South Dakota, but it could have just as well been that for Saskatchewan and Alberta as well as it is common in all of the Prairie Provinces. It is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and is thus a real joy to see. It is characteristic of native short-grass and mixed-grass prairie and is often found on south-facing hillsides. This is perhaps so as much of the level ground has been broken for cultivation and the plants destroyed, whereas a hillside may have been too steep for cultivation.

A member of the Ranunculus or Buttercup family, the Prairie Crocus has 5-7 large, showy, blue-purple-white sepals and no petals. There are numerous yellow stamens. A cluster of long, plumose achenes replaces the flowers. The plants are covered with silky hairs. Several long petioled divided leaves develop after the flowers.

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You can read more about it in the classic “Flora of Alberta” written by Ezra Moss and revised by John Packer. Or you can find it illustrated and described in the various wildflower books which cover the prairies and parklands. I particularly like the coverage in Kathleen Wilkinson’s “Wildflowers of Alberta”.

Yet another of nature’s treasures. Admire, photograph and protect for future generations.