Plant of the Week

Geum triflorum range map.
Geum triflorum range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Close-up of the feathery styles of old man’s whiskers.
Extreme close-up of the feathery styles of old man’s whiskers. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Upright feather fruits and still nodding flowers of old man’s whiskers
Upright feather fruits and still nodding flowers of old man’s whiskers. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

A clump of old Man’s Whiskers plants in flower.
A clump of plants in flower. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Old Man’s Whiskers making “prairie smoke” in a mountain meadow on the San Juan National Forest.
Plants making “prairie smoke” in a mountain meadow on the San Juan National Forest south of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Photo by Charlie McDonald.

Old Man’s Whiskers (Geum triflorum)

By Charlie McDonald

Old man’s whiskers (Geum triflorum) is an herbaceous perennial plant in the avens genus (Geum), which is a group of about 50 species in the rose family (Rosaceae). Old man’s whiskers is also known as prairie smoke or purple avens.

This delightful spring wildflower spreads by rhizomes to form large clumps. The nodding reddish-pink to purplish flowers are individually rather plain, but make a nice display when clumped together. As the flowers fade, they turn upright. The styles elongate (to 2 inches long) to form feathery gray tails that collectively resemble miniature feather dusters. The plants attract the most attention when these plumes cover the landscape, giving rise to the common name prairie smoke.

Several of the avens are garden cultivars and old man’s whiskers are available from several nursery sources. It makes an interesting border plant, but is easily overtopped and crowded out by taller garden plants. It looks best when flowering in the spring and again in the fall when the leaves form bright green fern-like clumps.

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Yellow Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).
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