Living on the edge of the Rocky Mountains presents a challenge to things that bloom in early Spring. Temperatures quickly fluctuate from hot to below freezing while a heavy wet Spring snowfall can suddenly blanket the hillsides. What’s a plant to do to protect its sensitive stamens and pistils?
This week we had a warm spell followed by freezing and snow, the perfect conditions for checking out the survival of the most striking of our early flora, the pasque (Anemone patens). Pasque flowers have a showy, beautiful blossom that is composed of 5 to 7 sepals that look like petals. True petals are missing. The plant is common throughout northwestern U.S. up to northern Alaska. Common names include the pasqueflower, wind flower, prairie crocus, Easter flower, and meadow anemone.
I went searching for pasque flowers before the storm on Boulder’s McClintock Trail. I found a few entering the risky world above ground…
The Pasque Before the Storm
The name “pasque” is probably from the Hebrew “paschal”, “relating to Passover”. The pasqueflower begins blooming as soon as the mountain snow melts, about the time of Passover. Another interpretation is that the flower is named for Easter since Pasqua means Easter in Italian.
Religious controversies aside, these early bloomers are important to honey bees and other pollen gatherers to replenish their food stores after a long winter. From an evolutionary standpoint an early flowering niche strategy can provide abundant snow melt moisture and less competition for pollinators…
Pasques Get Moisture from the Melting Snow
One downside of this early bloomer strategy is that early flowering requires survival techniques that enable the plant to withstand harsh climate conditions. In one adaptation the pasque does what we do, it puts on a coat. The plant has evolved a thick silky coat to insulate the leaves, stem and flowers and to protect them from direct contact with snow…
A Coat of Silk Protects the Pasqueflower plant
Another risk of early blooming is that the timing of “early” is critical for successful reproduction. We can see that this plant, like many others, depends on the synchronization of snow melt with the early emergence of pollinators. Both of these events are being disrupted by climate change. It is possible that plants like the pasque and the bees that pollinate them will get out of sync. This nasty aspect of rapid climate change is called pollinator dislocation.
Pasque with Pollinating Bee
Then the storm came to Boulder, Colorado…
The Storm Came and Mandy Was Happy
Today the warmth returned to the McClintock Trail so I trudged through the mud to see how well their coat of silk allowed the pasques to survive the snow storm…
Storm Bedraggled Pasqueflower Protecting Delicate Pollen
These Pasqueflowers Survived the Storm in Good Shape
Protecting the Genetic Future of Pasqueflowers One Flower at a Time
Soon the weather will stay warm and the soil will dry out. Those warm lush slopes of early Spring will look like desert by Summer. Thus by late Spring these tough but beautiful flowers will have completed their life cycle and will toss their seeds into the wind for the next generation. The delicate violet sepals and yellow anther will be replaced by a twisting mass of feathery seed heads ready to fly away and spread the genetic secrets of their survival.
Pasque Gone to Seed
Here’s the handy guide to the Wildflowers of the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks called Look Closely that led me to the pasqueflowers on the McClintock.