Photos of the Week – April 17, 2020

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).

A backlit flower shows off the insulating dense hairs that help pasqueflower thrive in cold weather.
This evening photo was taken just as the sun slid into a gap between otherwise dense clouds a few minutes before sunset.
This photo was taken about a minute after the previous one, but in the opposite direction, showing the same flowers from the other side.
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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

24 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – April 17, 2020

  1. Pulsatilla? Pshhh… Hard pasque. At least for anybody east of Chicago, where there aren’t any occurrences.

    Just kidding… I’d love to see this one, someday. :)

  2. This is one of my favorite flowers, because it’s one of the first to emerge in “spring” at 8500 feet in the Colorado mountains. I’ve seen them flower in April and then emerge again a week or so later after getting smashed by 2 feet of snow. They seem to have some kind of anti-freeze that lets them weather the snow and flower again.

    • I’ve always wanted to see this one myself. I was going to make the drive to see it in bloom this year, but decided I should not considering the current situation. I’ll probably have other chances.

  3. I wondered if the name of the flower was related to words associated with Easter and Passover, and so it is: phrases like ‘the Paschal feast’ have their roots in the same ground as ‘pasque flower.’ I also found that it used to be known as ‘passeflower,’ no doubt because of its ephemeral nature.

    The hairs are great. I’ve learned to appreciate hairs on plants as defense against insects and moisture loss, but I never thought about them as insulation. That’s what I get for living in SE Texas, I guess.

  4. Hello Chris, I have enjoyed your pictures of this lovely plant. I live in South Africa and we do not have any members of the genus indigenous to southern Africa. What family does it belong to?.
    Take care, stay safe,
    Malcolm

  5. I love your pictures Chris! Always a boost. Your pasque flower post brought back memories. Thanks for everything you do for conservation. I appreciate you. – Scott

    • Ironically, it is listed as being in the county where I live. There are only a few hill prairies that would be suitable habitat. I’ve volunteered at two of the best sites. Yet, I have never seen it.

  6. Pingback: Photos of the Week – April 17, 2020 — The Prairie Ecologist

  7. Ironically, it is listed as being in the county where I live. There are only a few hill prairies that would be suitable habitat. I’ve volunteered at two of the best sites. Yet, I have never seen it.

  8. Chris – come up to Harrison County IA sometime. Started blooming here in March. Still can see them, but the peak has passed.

  9. One of my favorites!! I never see bees at them, but have seen flies visit. I have some (cultured varieties) planted next to my sidewalk. Great not only for the early bloom, but also because the seed heads are super cool and interesting too. And the fuzzy foliage is wonderful.

    • I’ve documented many species of bees, flies, beetles, bugs, ants, butterflies, caterpillars, and spiders using native pasque flowers.

  10. Ok, I lied! Chris Helzer is in Nebraska! Not sure how close his prairie is to Konza! Still worth checking out and look for iNaturalist in your phone’s app store. It’s best to look at iNat online first so that you can see how to utilize it better. I think you should make a “project” of your place. The areas that are common to the neighborhood may already have a project. It may lead you to nearby project. It’s become a more common app these days. It has millions of observations. In April they usually have a city competition to see which city across the globe can rack up the most observations. Covid killed the competition but they still recorded observations. It’s really cool! Check it out! While you are at it, you can check out the Texas Prairie effort at my organization. Native Prairies Association of Texas

    Great talking to you! Would love to see your photos! We would love a place in Colorado!

    JoAnn Collins

    817.689.0098 Get Outside and Teach!

    Do you know where YOUR prairie is? Save the Fort Worth Prairie!

    On Fri, Apr 17, 2020 at 12:28 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” 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 ac” >

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