In early spring, I eagerly anticipate the opening of the first pasque flower, with blossoms often pushing up through the season's last snow. I can only imagine the joy that pioneers and Native Americans must have felt when greeted by a whole field in bloom at the end of a long winter.
The state flower of South Dakota, pasque flower stands only about 6 inches tall, with big flowers somewhat reminiscent of large crocus blossoms.
The petallike sepals are covered with silky hairs. Noted Great Plains plantsman Claude A. Barr, writing in his posthumously published "Jewels of the Plains," paints one of his wonderful word pictures: "In earliest spring the buds rapidly enlarge and push tentatively upward, warm-robed in silver fur, preferring to dodge severe weather. They open into lavender satin beauties, with gold centers and deeper lavender to blue and deep purple outer wraps."
After the sepals fall, fuzzy, finely divided foliage emerges. It, too, is covered with silky hairs.
Pasque flower blossoms don't last long, but the show doesn't end when they fade. If you don't rush to pinch off dead flowers, you'll be rewarded with attractive, long-lasting, glossy seed heads and maybe some volunteer seedlings, too.
For the longest-lived plants, choose a spot with good drainage. I grow mine in the rock garden. They grow well in full sun or in the partial shade provided by somewhat taller plants.
Barr gives the botanical name of the South Dakota wildflower as Pulsatilla patens. Most experts agree, although the name has switched back and forth from time to time, with pasque flower sometimes classified under Anemone instead.
There are other pasque flower species native to Europe and their hybrids, providing gardeners a wonderful array of colors that include not only lavender but also blue, cream, pink, red, and white.
Once hot weather arrives, pasque flowers often disappear for the rest of the growing season. Fortunately, there are a lot of other great native plants that do a fine job of filling the void. One of my favorites is purple poppy mallow, also known as wine cups.
Barr liked purple poppy mallow, too, calling it "one of the most faithful in the production of rich color."
A creeping plant with wine-red, cup-shaped flowers that keep on coming for months on end, this native wonder weaves in and out among other plants, knitting the garden together. Its finely dissected leaves are also attractive. A deep taproot sees the plant through hard times.