Bird’s Eye Primrose (Mistassini Primrose)
The bird’s eye primrose evolved to bloom early and fast in places where summer doesn’t long last. Already in May, its short leafless stalks begin to quickly rise from moist crevices, mosses, and grasses on Lake Superior's cliffs and ledges. Each stalk bears up to five magenta buds that open into tiny, round lavender-rose flowers with heart-shaped petals and yellow eyes. Many of the plants I see on windy ledges have only a single blossom on a stalk not even three inches tall. Even at the height of bloom, they’re easy to miss.
A flower mainly of subarctic and alpine areas, in the lower forty-eight states the bird's eye primrose grows most abundantly around the upper Great Lakes. On Superior’s northern coast, off-lake winds, wave spray, fog, and seepage from higher ground help sustain the cool, damp growing conditions it requires. Long before other flowers appear, bird’s eye primrose buds draw me back to the shore.