Pasque Flowers

Pulsatilla vulgaris – better known by its common name, the pasque flower – is a small genus of roughly 30 species in the ranunculaceae family. These plants are deciduous perennials that are native to areas of Eurasia, as well as the prairies and meadows of North America. These blossoms are considered low-growing – only reaching heights of 8 to 12 inches – and develop in small clumps. The base and foliage of this plant consist of a short stocky stem and heavily dissected leaves which are generally covered in fine, silky, white hairs. The actual blossoms can grow between 2 to 2 and ½ inches in size, and form a distinctive bell or cup shape which eventually droops down due to its weight. They are made up of five to eight sepals which are centered upon a circle of bracts. Although these plants are mostly seen in a lavender-like purple hue, other cultivars may appear in both burgundy and white shades.

The pasque flower is known by many names – from twinflower and prairie smoke, as it was called by several Native American tribes, to windflower, as it was known by the ancient Greeks. But its modern name was derived from the old French word for Easter. This came about when the well known English botanist, John Gerard, was inspired to name these blossoms because of their season of growth – between April and June. A continuation of the Easter theme shows that these blossoms may very well have been the inspiration for the traditional Easter custom of dying eggs. At one time, juices from the pasque flower were extracted to create a short-lived green dye that was used to color linen and paper. This served as an inspiration to stain eggs the same green-colored hue for numerous spring festivals, which was later adopted by Christians. Although this colorant was used for ages, it has since been found to be exceptionally toxic. Despite that fact, these plants have long been used for a number of medicinal purposes – from treating reproductive issues, to curing coughs. However, because of the high level of toxicity, these plants are rarely used, except by well-trained homeopaths.

Because the pasque flower is so heavily linked to Easter, it is not uncommon to see them given as gifts to celebrate this particular holiday. Aside from that, these blossoms are considered one of the many well loved spring flowers, and may also be presented in celebration of the season itself. They are also said to represent a marked absence of pretension, and may be given as a humble symbol of affection.

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