Pasque flower

As I noted in July 2003, crab spiders sit on or under flowers just waiting for a fly, or a bee to land and then to make a meal of them. Here is such another on that beautiful flower of springtime, the pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris). In England the plant is found in less than half the locations where it once existed. In France it grows prolifically in many stony limestone soils subject to rough grazing. It is a delight to find that it has the same name in both countries, though here we call it La Fleur de P‚ques. It is a curiosity that the word 'pasque' signifies 'the passover', the time of the jewish festival (hebrew 'pascah'), always coincident with Easter. The large heavy flowers tend to hang downwards and that could be the reason for another name 'coquelourde' or 'heavy shell'. Who knows? The flower petals can be made to yield a green dye, which has been used in the staining of eggs for Easter (coque de P‚ques, which is this region has become a cake!). These symbols are all very primitive and pre-Christian. The deep purple red of the flowers has as well been taken as symbolic of the blood of Christ. To me these symbols reflect the common culture of Europe, a heritage of Christian culture no doubt pleasing to the Polish contingent of the EU.

But why are the flowers purple? The deep colour will absorb the warmth of the sun but also I suspect the purple flowers are also reflecting ultraviolet rays which bees can see, and we cannot. So these flowers will shine up like beacons to the bees and welcome them. There are normally six petals and no sepals. The outer stamens are modified to produce nectar and the inner ones produce copious pollen. The bees help themselves to both. In this it differs from its near relative the anemone or windflower, with a similar flower structure but which never has nectar. Neither are scented.

When it is time for the fruits, each stem of the pasque flower extends to twice its length and the hairy fruits are carried high to be blown away in the wind. Exactly the same lengthening, for the same reason, happens in the dandelion (dent de lion - another cultural conjunction, even though the vulgar pissenlit is more popular!). It follows also that dandelions, and pasque flowers are plants of windy open places, unlike the anemone which has tiny pip like fruits and grows in woods.

pasque flower

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