South Dakota State Flower - Pasque Flower

When you see pasque flowers, spring isn't far behind.

When you see pasque flowers, spring isn't far behind.

Springtime on the Great Plains brings warmer temperatures, and as the days begin to lengthen and the snow to melt, the pasque flower is there to herald the season. Also known as the May Day flower, the pasque -- whose name is derived from Pasques, French for Easter -- is the crocus-like wonder that peeks its head out of the snow. South Dakota’s state flower is more than a pretty reminder of winter’s surrender to spring -- it means life.


The pasque flower, a member of the buttercup family, is South Dakota’s signal that spring has arrived. Furry stems hold 1- to 4-inch purple flowers with gold centers. The foliage is grass-like and grows close to the ground. The pasque flower thrives in South Dakota’s foothills, plains and meadows to 10,000 feet and is most commonly seen in the Slim Buttes, Black Hills and Cave Hills, according to the folks at Northern State University.


Sometimes, when choosing a state’s floral emblem, officials didn’t get it right the first time and the statutes were amended years later. In South Dakota, they didn’t get it right the second time. Although there were several flowers under consideration, such as the wild rose and cactus flowers, the pasque flower got the final nod. On May 5, 1903, Anemome patens, the pasque flower, became South Dakota’s official flower. The statute making the choice official was amended 16 years later, and Pulsatilla hirsutissima replaced A. patens. Interestingly, officials had it right the first time. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature states that P. hirsutissima is an “illegitimate” name for the plant and A. patens is the proper name.


It’s always a good idea to try to mimic a wildflower’s native habitat when growing it in the home garden. Pasque flower thrives on the Great Plains where nature is finicky when it comes to rainfall. Some years it is abundant, others it’s scarce. The pasque flower has adapted and tolerates periods of drought. In fact, too much moisture at the roots causes rot. Grow the flower in sandy soil, such as in a rock garden, in a sunny area. Fertilize the plant in early spring with half the amount of fertilizer listed on the label. Expect the pasque to grow, slowly, from 6 to 12 inches in height and to spread 1 foot.


Use the pasque flower in the garden as a ground cover to create a mass of color. It also looks lovely when planted with red columbine, pink clematis and lady’s mantle. In the past, herbalists dried the plant and used it to treat various ailments. Because the drying process to remove toxins is detailed and involved, all parts of the pasque plant are now considered toxic if ingested or handled. Wear gloves when working with the plant ,and don’t use it in areas frequented by small children who may handle or eat it.

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