Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) is one of the most popular of the early spring prairie wildflowers, and for good reason. It’s a gorgeous plant, with an unusually large and showy blossom for a plant that blooms so early in the season. To continue my accidental rhyming paragraph, I’ll also mention that the plant has interesting adaptations to help it survive freezin’.
Blooming in April around here means a strong risk of freezing weather, frost, and even snow. One strategy that might be important to the success of pasqueflower is that it sends its flowering stalks up before putting any leaves out. I don’t know this, but I assume that means pasqueflower can limit its energy investment and risk. The plant isn’t relying on photosynthesis from leaves for its early season activity, something that’s probably helps is survive heavy snows or hard freezes. Its growth close to the ground and very dense (insulating) hairs also help it adapt to early prairie growth. Pasqueflower can also be found growing in the tundra, which probably makes spring in the prairie seem like not such a big deal.
My first live experience with pasqueflower came during a college spring break trip to northwestern Nebraska, where a friend and I found pasqueflower blossoms poking through the snow on high rocky ridges. Since then, I’ve been entranced by those flowers and their fuzzy heads that poke out of the ground to herald the coming of spring.
I wish there were native populations closer to my home in Aurora, but the species isn’t found in the southeast quarter of the state – they’re primarily a species of rocky prairies to the north. A couple years ago, I posted a bunch of early May photos showing pasqueflowers in full bloom at our Niobrara Valley Preserve. Today, I’m sharing some more photos that are more representative of what they look like in colder weather (with flowers more tightly closed).