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The fruit of prairie smoke creates the smoky appearance for which these plants are known. Prairie smoke also has interesting reddish-purplish-pink flowers and semi-evergreen foliage to add to the interest they provide in the late spring to early summer. A great choice for perennial beds and rock gardens, they perform well in hot, dry locations. This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region and current research.

  • Family (English) Rose
  • Family (botanic) Rosaceae
  • Tree or plant type Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Small plant (6-12 inches), Medium plant (12-24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Dry soil, Sandy soil, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Dry sites, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest late spring, early summer, midsummer
  • Flower color and fragrance Pink, Purple, Red
  • Shape or form Mounded, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Wildlife Insect pollinators

Size and method of spreading:

Prairie smoke is between one-half to one-and-one-half feet tall and one-half to 1 foot wide at maturity. Underground stem structures (rhizomes) produce colonies of prairie smoke, and the seeds are dispersed by the wind or passing animals. Prairie smoke can naturalize into ground cover in areas with little competition. 

Native geographic location and habitat: (include C-value if appropriate)

Prairie smoke is native to the Western and most of the Northern United States. C-value: 10.

Attracts birds or pollinators: 

Bumblebees are strong enough to force their way into the flowers in search of nectar, cross-pollinating the flowers in the process. A species of leaf beetle (Graphops marcassita) feeds on the foliage of prairie smoke, while the larvae may feed on the roots.

Leaf description:

Prairie smoke leaves form a rosette around the base of the plant (basal rosette). The leaves consist of a center stalk (rachis) from which leaflets grow in a featherlike formation with a single leaflet at the terminal end of the rachis (odd-pinnate compound leaf). Typically there are between three and six pairs of lateral leaflets, and between some of those pairs grow smaller, secondary leaflets. The overall shape of individual leaflets are long and narrow with the widest part at the ends and tapering towards the rachis (oblanceolate), shallow, irregular clefts along the tip, and may vary greatly from each other. The margins have slightly fringed hairs (ciliate). The foliage of prairie smoke is semi-evergreen in certain conditions, creating interest by turning red, orange, and purple in the late fall.

Flower description:

At first glance, the flowers of prairie smoke look like little hanging reddish-purplish-pink orbs with leaflike structures of the same color that flare out from where the orb connects to the stalk. About a month or two after the flowers have appeared, they will begin to straighten from their nodded position as the fruit develops within the flower structure. The orbs are actually formed by leaflike structures (sepals) that surround the petals. The five flower petals within the sepals are white to light red, and the sepals are partially fused around them. The leaflike structures (bracts) that flare out from the sepals are much longer and more narrow (linear) than the triangular (deltoid) sepals, but both are covered in short hair (pubescent). The flowers grow on individual stalks (pedicels) in groups of threes on each leafless stem (scape) that grows from the center of the leaves at the base of the plant (basal leaves).

Fruit description:

Perhaps more spectacular than the flowers of prairie smoke, the fruit are small and dry (achenes) with showy, pinkish-silvery, feathery plumes that protrude from the spreading sepals and petals. The plumes are often compared to smoke in appearance, hence the name.

Plant care:

Prairie smoke prefers cooler summers, so some shade may be preferred in warmer climates. It is recommended to provide some additional moisture while prairie smoke establishes, but take care to not overwater. These plants do not like competition from taller perennials and like to be planted in groups.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

When established, prairie smoke is drought tolerant and may have rot issues in poorly drained soils. They are deer resistant. Otherwise, they are not subject to serious pests or disease.


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