Last summer I posted photos of old man’s beard (Geum triflorum) showing its feathery aspect. As the fruits mature, the styles become very long and downy. Collectively these plume-like styles look, to some, like a beard, thus one of the common names. Others think the mature flower head looks smoky and refer to this interesting plant as prairie smoke.
The basal leaves of old man’s beard are pinnate with deeply toothed leaflets giving the plant a fernlike appearance. The entire plant is covered with long, soft hairs that add to the feathery or smoky illusion.
Flowering stems of old man’s beard are leafless except for two small dissected leaves near the midlength of the stem. Flowers usually occur in threes, giving rise to the species name, triflorum, which means “three flowers”. Red sepals are fused at the base to form a bowl shaped structure that almost hides the yellowish petals and numerous stamens. I find the nodding flowers very pretty even though the petals are almost invisible.
Old man’s beard is a member of the rose family and can be found in moist sites throughout the high plains of the West. These old man’s beard plants were growing on a hillside overlooking Ash Creek (Lassen County CA). I cut one flower open to show the hidden petals surrounded by sepals and the forming fruits with their styles which will soon open to give the old man’s beard plants their distinctive look.