Thursday, May 11

Before the Greening, the Lavender

The first real sign of spring's new life in the Yukon is the lavender of the little pasque flowers.* People here most often call them crocuses, but while they do look a little like crocuses, and they come first thing in the spring like crocuses do, they're not really crocuses. It's their early spring flowering that is the reason behind several of the common names for this wildflower, like May Day flower, Easter flower and spring crocus. The word pasque itself, of course, refers to Easter or the passover.

The Blackfoot Indian called these flowers napi, which translates to "old man" in English. If you look at the photograph above (snapped by my son, by the way), you'll can see why they found this name appropriate. More officially, however, they're called pulsatilla vulgaris, which makes them sound a little naughty, but vulgaris simply means they are the vulgar (or common) form of the pulsatilla family, the family so-named because of the pulsing that these flowers do in the spring wind.

And they aren't called common for nothing. You'll find wild pasque flowers across western North America, from Utah up through Alaska and as far west as Illinois. They prefer prairies as their habitat, and two prairie places--South Dakota and Manitoba--have declared the pasque flower their official flower. Here in the Yukon, you'll find them mostly in clearings of wooded foothills.

Sometimes people try to transplant these little beauties to their home gardens, but more often than not, this doesn't work. These are plants that prefer their soil hard and untilled, and the soil of flowerbeds is just too soft and cushy for them. My neighbor managed to grow a couple of wild pasque flowers in her wildflower garden, although she had to wait several years before her plants flowered. Because they don't grow well in cultivated soil, there is some worry that as more and more land is tilled for farmland in the prairies, the pasque flower may eventually disappear altogether from the grasslands there.

However, since most of the areas where crocuses grow in the Yukon are no good for either farming or building, there's not much chance they'll die out here. The biggest enemy of the Yukon pasque flower is enthusiastic children. Little girls, in particular, can't resist them, and love to pick them to bring home to their mothers by the ice cream bucketsful. At least that's they way things went at our house.

*The green in the photo is the evergreen bearberry plant.