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A gentle sign of spring
The pasque flower quietly heralds the return of warm weather.
Only isolated snow patches remain as spring warms the prairie soil. In early April, ground-loving pasque flowers respond and grace the slowly-greening land with fuzzy lavender blossoms.
Pasque flowers, Anemone patens, are not easy plants to find. Their two-inch blue to lavender, sometimes white, flowers hug the dry prairie soil at a time when we're unlikely to be searching for flowering plants. The beautiful blooms may be found in native prairies, along sandy country roads or tucked in crevices on the southern exposure of dry rocky bluffs. The flowers bloom before the leaves appear. When the blossoms fade, the deeply cut, lacy leaves expand and the flowering stalk elongates. Its sinewy remnants arch in the wind. The conspicuously plumes are now easy to spot, but you're at least a month too late to smell its blossoms.
Pasque flowers are perennials. The flower rises from the caudex, the thickened base of a perennial plant. The five to seven pastel-colored petaloid sepals cover the flower parts. Pasque flowers lack true petals, as do all members of the anemone family including Canada anemone, wood anemone and thimbleweed. White silky hairs, each 2-3 mm long, densely cover all parts of pasque flowers giving the plant its fuzzy appearance. One wonders if such hairs protect this early-blooming plant from frosty spring nights.
The female part of the flower looks like a fuzzy little button. Numerous yellow stamens surround it. After insects pollinate the blossoms, the achenes (fruits) mature and the female style elongates to form a feathery wisp. Each plant looks like a miniature Fourth of July firework with a cascade of two- to three-inch wisps bursting from the exploding button. The plumed pasque flower resembles the fruiting stage of another prairie resident, prairie smoke, but the two species are unrelated. Pasque flower is a member of the buttercup or crowfoot family, Ranunculaceae; prairie smoke, Geum triflorum, is in the rose or Rosaceae family. Pasque flower's plume is silvery to greenish-white while prairie smoke's fruiting plume is brick red.
Pasque flower is so named because it blooms about the time of two important religious ceremonies. Originating in the middle east, pesach referred to both passage and Passover; important spring tenets of Moslem and Jewish faiths. Later, the French altered the name to passefleur or pasque flower as a reference to Easter. That name persists today.
Pasque flowers are a welcome sign of spring. They remind us that despite the fitful nature of spring's arrival, the season is progressing and will soon surround us in all its glory.
Anita Carpenter pokes the ground looking for spring ephemerals near her Oshkosh home.