Description & Overview

After a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, there is nothing more magnificent than the sight of dozens of American Pasqueflower dotting the landscape. A symbol of the prosperity of spring, soft and silky, lavender-blue flowers bring delight while nourishing our pollinators during a time when food is needed most, and options are limited. When you see the saucer-shaped flowers of Anemone patens peeking out of the ground then you know warmer weather is on the way!

You may also know this plant as Eastern Pasqueflower, Prairie Crocus, Cutleaf Anemone, Ears of the Earth, Wind Flower, Blue Tulip, or Crocus Anemone.

You may also know the botanical name as Pulsatilla patens.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 4-16 inches

Mature Spread: 12–16 inches

Growth Rate: Perennial

Growth Form: Clump forming, compact

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Dry to medium, somewhat gritty, well-drained soil

Flower: Single, blue-white, light lavender to white (sometimes yellow) bell-shaped flowers with bright yellow centers packed with pollen.

Bloom Period: March - May

Foliage: Fern-like, deeply lobed basal foliage is hairy with a silvery-green color.

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Achenes with pink-purple silky hairs

Suggested Uses

A long-lived Wisconsin native perennial normally found in prairies, slopes, woods, or granite outcrops, American Pasqueflower thrives in dry to medium, well-drained soil, in full sun (6+ hours). They cannot tolerate wet, soggy soil, or deep shade.

American Pasqueflower is a great native alternative to tulips or daffodils and with its shorter height, would work well within rock gardens, xeric gardens, as edging plants, or in front of taller perennials. It would be at home in a prairie or pollinator garden and is a great species for restoration and reclamation projects as it does well in disturbed, less-than-ideal soils.

Leafless, hairy stems appear in March/April, with flowers blooming in May/June as the foliage begins to form. Fern-like, deeply lobed basal foliage is also hairy, oftentimes appearing silvery-green as sunlight hits the leaves. In the early days of bloom, flowers sit atop short stems, typically four to five inches tall, gradually elongating and maturing to eight inches to a foot tall. Bell-shaped flowers range from light blue to light lavender, to white, to yellow, with five to eight sepals. Covering the entire plant, from the sepals along the stem to the leaves, are very long hairs, which give the entire plant a soft-silky look and feel. By mid-summer, American Pasqueflower begins to die back as it prepares for its winter dormancy period. This is a clever move. By abbreviating its life cycle, the plant dodges competition with other flowers and avoids the hottest and driest time of the year.

American Pasqueflower will re-seed and spread over time. Keep this in mind when deciding where to plant. They are masters of self-planting and in fact, their seeds are designed in such a way that they plant themselves! Spear-shaped seeds are covered with hairs that point backward, with a long tail that consists of strands that soak up water in different amounts and different rates – in fancy terms: “differentially hydrophilic.” This means that when the seed tail gets wet or dries out, it moves and twists as the strands stretch out or contract based on the amount of water present. Together with those peculiar backward-pointing hairs, the seed head pushes down into the soil, and voila – a self-planted seed!

After a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, there is nothing more magnificent than the sight of dozens of American Pasqueflower dotting the landscape. A s…
After a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, there is nothing more magnificent than the sight of dozens of American Pasqueflower dotting the landscape. A s…

Wildlife Value

As with other anemones, American Pasqueflower does not have nectar but is bursting with nutrient-dense pollen.

Blooming in early spring, they provide pollinators with much-needed nutrition, beating out the competition by flowering before most other plants. Especially important to female bees preparing their nests, Long-tongued bees, including Honeybees and Bumblebees, as well as Short-tongued bees such as Ground-nesting, Orange-legged Furrow, Sweat, Icy Miner, Willow Miner, and Dotted Miner bees are all eager visitors. Syrphid and Bee flies also visit American Pasqueflower for pollen.

One of the most wonderful and fascinating things in nature is the relationship between the structure of a flower and the function of pollinators. Does form follows function, or does function follow form? Either way, this mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship is demonstrated well with Anemone patens. The shape of the bloom itself is not by chance. With a saucer-like form, combined with highly reflective sepals and an ability to follow the sun (heliotropism), sunlight is bounced from the sepals to the flower’s center, warming up the reproductive parts (pistils and stamen) nestled within. This warmth concentrated in the center of the flower is believed to help in the development of pollen and seeds, while also keeping pollinators nice and warm, which in turn aids in cross-pollination. The temperature inside a Pasqueflower can be upwards of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, often warmer than the surrounding outside air! Truly remarkable.

Maintenance Tips

Little to no maintenance is required for this easy-care perennial. American Pasqueflower will seed themselves easily, spending the first couple of years developing a strong taproot before blooming in the third year. That deep taproot means that they do not like to be transplanted once established. If you’re up for the challenge and can accept that adult plants may not survive, divide in early spring when they are less likely to be stressed. Avoid moving them when they are flowering.

As mentioned earlier, they do reseed quite readily. Deadheading the flowers after they’ve bloomed and wilted will remove the seeds and may encourage longer bloom times as well as prevent unwanted spread. There is no need to deadhead if reseeding is desired.

After a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, there is nothing more magnificent than the sight of dozens of American Pasqueflower dotting the landscape. A s…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

No serious insect or disease problems.

With many hairs on all parts of the flowers, stems, and leaves, American Pasqueflower is not appealing to wildlife and is usually safe from rabbit or deer damage. Like others in the buttercup family, American Pasqueflower contains Protoanemonin, a toxin that can cause irritation and gastrointestinal problems for livestock, making it less likely to be browsed.

Leaf Lore

Part of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, Anemone is diverse with more than 100 species. Much has been written about this delightful genus with great debate on the origin of the name.

The genus name Anemone comes from the Latin word ‘Anemo’ which refers to the wind and how the flowers sway in the breeze.

Asa Gray (harvard.edu), considered to be one of the most important American botanists of the 19th century, believed “Anemone” was so named because it only blooms when the wind blows. Fun fact: A specimen of Anemone patens in Asa Gray’s herbarium collection was sent to him from Ripon College in Wisconsin, a fact published in The Asa Gray Bulletin, Vol 1., No. 2 (jstor.org) from 1893.

In Greek mythology, Anemone is the name of the “daughter of the winds”, combining ‘anemos’ meaning “wind” with –one, the female patronym, a personal name based on the given name of one’s father or grandfather. Rich with melodrama, some say that Anemone, a beautiful nymph, became entangled in a love triangle with Zephyr, the God of the West Wind and God of Spring, and his wife Chloris, the Goddess of Flowers. In a jealous rage, Chloris banished Anemone from the court and turned her into a flower, with Zephyr soon losing interest. And just when it couldn’t get any more complicated, another wind god by the name of Boreas fell in love with Anemone, but she was not having it and spurned him. To express his endless spite, every spring, Boreas blows open Anemone’s petals causing them to fade early. Nice guy.

Yet another story says that Anemone was named after Namaan, the Semitic name for the god Adonis. Flowers appeared from the drops of the blood of Adonis after he died from a boar wound. Others say the flowers came into being from the tears of Venus as she wept over Adonis.

In Christian mythology, the Pasqueflower is associated with the ideas of rebirth, nobility, grace, and dignity.

Decidedly less interesting, the specific epithet patens is Latin for “spreading,” “outspread,” and in some cases, “open.”

“Pasque” comes from the Old French ‘paschal’ which translates to “Easter” in reference to the flower’s spring bloom time. French missionaries used American Pasqueflower to decorate their chapels during Easter festivals.

In terms of ethnobotanical history, American Pasqueflower was used extensively by Native Americans and settlers in small amounts to treat various ailments and conditions. Dried leaves were used in a tea to ease rheumatism, a poultice of pressed dried leaves was used as a topical treatment, a bouquet of freshly dried ground leaves was used as a form of aromatherapy to alleviate headaches, and crushed roots were used to fight lung disorders. It should be noted that internal consumption is poisonous.

Fun fact: In the prairie provinces of Canada, American Pasqueflower is sometimes known as the “ears of the earth” as the plant seems to burst forth through the snow as though listening for the approach of summer (Royer and Dickinson 1996).

Companion Plants

American Pasqueflower combines well with other spring-flowering perennials:

For a prairie vibe, plant amongst:

After a long, cold winter in Wisconsin, there is nothing more magnificent than the sight of dozens of American Pasqueflower dotting the landscape. A s…
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Written by Johnson's Nursery