After a long, gray winter, the plasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) bursts forth from the forest floor with five to seven beautiful, lavender petal-like sepals, adding one of the first splashes of color of the coming spring. The first pasqueflowers bloom in late March in lower foothills elevations, and they will bloom into early summer, as high as treeline. They grow straight upward, around 6 inches tall with flowers 1-2 inches across. The outside of the flowers are hairy, which may help insulate bloomed flowers if a snowstorm or cold snap hits during their bloom. The leaves don’t appear until after they have bloomed. Look for them in open forests, usually on mesas, in well-drained areas. They are locally common in dry ponderosa forests.
Their resemblance to the crocus suggests another common name for this flower, the prairie crocus. A lot of people confuse these flowers for crocuses – they look similar, and they flower at the same time of the year – but they aren’t related. Crocuses are part of the iris family, and pasqueflowers are members of the buttercup family – notice the multiple hooked pistils in the center of the flower in the photo above, which is a common buttercup family trait. No crocuses are native to North America. Look for crocuses in gardens and cultivated flowerbeds.
These harbingers of spring, whose common name is believed to derive from an archaic French or Hebrew word for Easter, are the state flower of South Dakota and the provincial flower of Manitoba. I start looking for them in March, and I know that spring has arrived when I finally see one in bloom. This year I found them a week ago. They are common throughout Colorado’s Front Range, with a few bunches of maybe a dozen or more growing here and there. Around Boulder the best place to see them is the Goshawk Ridge Trail near Eldorado Springs. Keep in mind that this trail is closed when it is muddy (which happens often this time of year: see the OSMP Temporary Closures page for the latest), and not dogs are allowed on this trail. If it is closed or if you have a dog but are in the area and want to search for them, look for them in the vicinity where the South Shanahan and Mesa Trails meet. A few of them bloom close to the trail.