Pulsatilla nuttalliana prairie pasqueflower

Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

The purple flower with numerous yellow stamens of the prairie pasqueflower (Pulsatilla nuttalliana)

Pulsatilla nuttalliana prairie pasqueflower

Common Names

pulsatille multifide
American pasqueflower
crocus anemone
cutleaf anemone
lion’s-beard
Pacific anemone
pasqueflower
prairie pasqueflower
prairie crocus
prairie-smoke
western pasqueflower

Synonyms

Anemone nuttalliana

Anemone patens subsp. multifida (This is still considered the accepted name by numerous floras and in ITIS. See discussion in the Identification and Information section below)

Anemone patens var. multifida
Anemone patens var. nutttalliana
Pulsatilla ludoviciana
Pulsatilla multifida
Pulsatilla nuttaliana subsp. nuttaliana
Pulsatilla nuttalliana
Pulsatilla nuttalliana subsp. multifida
Pulsatilla patens subsp. asiatica
Pulsatilla patens subsp. multifida
Pulsatilla patens var. multifida

Subspecies

none

Genus: Pulsatilla
Family: Ranunculaceae
Order: Ranunculales
taxonomic heirarchy

Etymology

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

Pulsatilla nuttalliana, commonly known as the prairie or American pasqueflower, is a small, early-blooming perennial herb in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It grows from a branching caudex with fibrous roots and a woody stem base. Young plants are densely woolly and short in the early season, often appearing as compact clumps. The leaves frequently do not develop until after the flower blooms. Basal leaves typically range from 5 to 8, with occasional occurrences of as few as 3 or as many as 10. The leaf blades are 3-parted, with each leaflet dichotomously dissected (deeply cleft) into linear segments. The leaf blades and petioles are also hairy.



The flowering stems are hairy and taller than the leaves, growing 5-40 cm tall. Each stem bears three woolly, involucral bracts arranged in a single tier beneath the flowers. The inflorescence is a solitary, terminal flower. The flower lacks true petals and instead has 5-8 sepals, often referred to as tepals because they resemble petals. These tepals are blue, purple, or occasionally white, oblong to elliptic in shape, 20-40 mm long, and hairy on the abaxial (lower) surface while glabrous on the adaxial (upper) surface. It has 150-200 stamens with glabrous filaments and bright yellow anthers surrounding numerous white-styled pistils. The fruit is an aggregate of numerous achenes arranged in a spherical or egg-shaped cluster, resembling the seed heads of dandelions or cottongrass.

Discussion

VASCAN currently recognizes Pulsatilla nuttalliana as the accepted name, and I follow this classification over ITIS due to its adoption of more recent taxonomic changes.

A large part of my confusion about naming this species arose while writing my article on Anemone multifida, the cutleaf anemone. ITIS lists Anemone multifida as a synonym and accepts Anemone patens var. multifida as the correct name. However, this approach creates significant confusion because ITIS treats Anemone patens as a distinct species, with Anemone patens var. multifida as a synonym, while VASCAN and most other sources consider Anemone patens var. multifida to be a synonym for Pulsatilla nuttalliana. The ITIS classification blurs the lines between distinct species, making it difficult to categorize and understand the plant accurately.

It is worth noting that GBIF shows a broader overlap in the geographical distribution of Pulsatilla nuttalliana and Pulsatilla patens, while iNaturalist tends to divide them more geographically. This further indicates the complexity and variability in how these species are understood and classified.

Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago discusses some of Hultén’s writing about the species:

“I can see no essential difference between the Siberian plant and the American and must consequently refer both to the same subspecies [i.e., subsp. multifida]. I find it impossible to regard the different races of Anemone patens as distinct species as Juzupczuk does in Fl. S.S.S.R. Where they meet, intermediate forms occur and they are clearly geographic races.”

Hultén (1944, p. 739) – From the Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

Here is a brief summary of some of these taxonomic notes (as I understand them):

  • Pulsatilla nuttalliana: Commonly accepted as the prairie or American pasqueflower. VASCAN lists this as the accepted name, while ITIS and some other sources may have variations.
  • Pulsatilla patens subsp. multifida: Sometimes treated as a subspecies of Pulsatilla patens and, by many sources, a synonym for a distinct species, Pulsatilla nuttalliana. ITIS treats this as a synonym for a different species, the cutleaf anemone.
  • Pulsatilla patens: The broader species name. In some regions, especially in Europe and Asia, this name is used for plants that are very similar or identical to what is called Pulsatilla nuttalliana in North America.
  • Anemone nuttalliana: This is an older name sometimes used interchangeably with Pulsatilla nuttalliana, reflecting historical classifications before Pulsatilla was more widely separated from Anemone.
  • Anemone patens subsp. multifida: Another older classification, where the plant was considered a subspecies of Anemone patens. This name is less commonly used now but still appears in some literature. According to ITIS, this is a completely different plant, Anemone multifida.

Here is my summary of how these appear in my online guide here:

Pulsatilla nuttalliana is the North American species closely related to the Siberian and European species Pulsatilla patens (it is entirely possible these are the exact same species). Anemone multifida is a separate species with distinct morphology. All other taxonomies are synonyms of these three species.


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

Most plants in the Ranunculaceae family (buttercups) are poisonous. They contain protoanemonin and possibly other toxins, which can cause numerous digestive problems and skin irritation.

Despite being toxic, Pulsatilla nuttalliana has several traditional uses. Most of these are either symbolic or don’t involve ingestion, like using the aroma of the crushed leaves as a cold remedy and treating headaches, passing the crushed root over someone to revive them, or using it as a poison. The full list is in the Native American Ethnobotany Database.

One use that made me laugh out loud is how the Blackfoot tribe used it as a “Toy & Game” (the classification given in NAEDB). The plant, including the leaves, can act as a vesicant and cause blistering. As a prank, the leaves would be given to unsuspecting people as toilet paper.


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew with additional info and discussion from the Flora of North America, Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, as well as iNaturalist for two entries: Pulsatilla patens and Pulsatilla nuttalliana.

Pulsatilla nuttalliana is primarily found in North America. It is prolific in Alaska, much of Canada, the Rocky Mountain States, and the Central United States. Its range is muddied by the fact it is nearly morphologically identical (and may be identical) to Pulsatilla patens, which is currently considered geographically distinct and found across Siberia and much of Europe. You can read more about this in the discussion above.

The prairie pasqueflower is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring in Alaska. It frequently lives on slopes, in prairies, open woods, and subalpine sites in well-drained soil with low organic content.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae  (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
         SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
            DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                  ClassMagnoliopsida 
                     SuperorderRanunculanae 
                        OrderRanunculales 
                           FamilyRanunculaceae (buttercups, boutons d’or, crowfoot)
                              GenusPulsatilla
                                 SpeciesPulsatilla nuttalliana

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 5). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 119). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Brandenburg, D. M. 2010. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. Sterling Publishing. (p. 460)

Classification and Taxonomy

Canadensys. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/taxon/30377?lang=en

ITIS. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=532147#null

USDA NRCS. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=PUPAM

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/3225/

Map and Distribution

GBIF. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/3929080

NatureServe Explorer. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.160969/Pulsatilla_nuttalliana

Plants of the World Online. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:1218474-2

iNaturalist. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/881504-Pulsatilla-nuttalliana

iNaturalist. (2024). Pulsatilla patens. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/127860-Pulsatilla-patens

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (2024). Anemone patens var. multifida. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Anemone_patens_var._multifida

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 466). Stanford University Press.

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Center for Conservation Science. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=1650

E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. (2024). Anemone patens. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Anemone%20patens&redblue=Both&lifeform=7

Canadian Museum of Nature. (2024). Anemone patens var. multifida. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://nature.ca/aaflora/data/www/raanptmu.htm

Wiki

Wikipedia contributors. (2024). Pulsatilla nuttalliana. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulsatilla_nuttalliana

Wikipedia contributors. (2024). Pulsatilla patens. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulsatilla_patens

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