The first prairie flower that blooms in my Nebraska garden is always one that surprises me. I’m not even looking for blooms in early to mid April – instead, I’m counting the plants putting up new bits of green, wondering what’s made it through winter. Pasque flower always makes it, rising in a bulb of fuzz, some sort of thick cleaning pipe pushing it up through leaf litter and last year’s decay. In the afternoon sun the soft, fuzzy hairs around its emerging bud and few thin leaves reflect light like a halo. It is in every possible sense one of my favorite native wildflowers.
Pasque flower’s common name is derived from an Old French word for
Easter, as it blooms around that time. Pulsatilla patens or Anemone
patens – which goes by other common names like prairie crocus, twin
flower, and sandflower – is native from Alaska south through Canada and
down into Texas, blooming in high Plains elevations and open prairie,
most often in dry or rocky soil. It gets about 1’ tall with a 2’ spread
and is slow to expand or self sow. From bloom to seed head it easily
puts on a full month show that, if you let it, opens your eyes to the
The Native American Dakota people believe that each species of plant and
animal has its own song that expresses its life and soul. One
translation of the twin flower or pasque flower song is this:
wish to encourage the children / of other flowering nations now
appearing all over the face of the earth; / So while they awaken from
sleeping / And come up from the heart of the earth I am standing here
old and gray-headed.
Since pasque flower can often begin
blooming even before the snow has melted, it is fitting to think of it
as old by the time the other spring flowers bloom, especially with its
white seed head among the colorful prairie. The hairs along the stems
and petals help to create a heat shield around it, much like what
happens with the hairs on our arms when we are cold.
The Dakota name of twin flower is evident in this image, where up to 150
yellow stamens surround a tuft of purple pistils. This duality leads to
the story of an old Dakota man who sits by the first spring bloom and
recounts his life’s joys, sorrows, hopes, and accomplishments. The bloom
reminds him of his youth and old age all at once, the perfect circle of
life, the duality of existence, and he is encouraged by that guiding
principle of completeness and wholeness of beginnings and endings
feeding each other. He picks the flower and takes it to his
grandchildren to teach them the song he learned as a child.
While I do not have practical experience and make no suggestion that you
try anything without consulting a professional, it is said that
crushing the fresh leaves and applying on arthritic hands helps ease the
pain, but if left on the skin too long will create a blister. Some
other medicinal uses include a tincture to calm symptoms of menopause
and insomnia, as well as to treat panic attacks.