antscarryingleaves

What is this Dr. Seuss flower?

The Question: I was hiking in the Trinity Alps in California and saw this flower that reminds me of the Truffula trees in the Dr. Seuss Lorax story. What are they?

Submitted by: Lindsey, California, USA

The Short Answer: What a spectacular photo!! And they do look like the Truffula trees, don’t they? This is actually the Western pasqueflower (Pulsatilla occidentalis or Anemone occidentalis). Of course, these flowers only reach 60 cm (two feet) or so in height, but aside from that, the resemblance is striking. Maybe they were the inspiration for the Truffula trees. Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, lived the last 40 years or so of his life in California, where the Western pasqueflower is found in mountainous areas, so he might very well have encountered these miniature-Truffula plants. The Western pasqueflower can also be found at higher elevations in Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta. What you are actually seeing in this photo, taken in September, is the distinctive seed head of the flower. The flower itself is small and white.

What does “pasqueflower” mean? According to Dictionary.com, the word pasque is Old French, and is derived from the Latin “Pascha” and the Greek word “P├íscha.” The ultimate source is the Hebrew word “Pesach,” meaning Passover. The word was applied to these flowers because the common pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), found in Europe, blooms in the spring around the time of Passover and Easter, and is purple, a color associated with Easter in Christian tradition.

A more fun common name for Pulsatilla occidentalis is “tow-headed baby.”

More Information: All parts of the pasqueflowers are considered to be poisonous to humans, with effects on the nervous system and the heart. They have been used by traditional healers to treat many kinds of ailments, and some people use these flowers as herbal remedies.

Sources:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pasque

http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PUOC

http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PUOC

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One Response

  1. Lindsey Givens Says:

    Thanks Tom! After we found these in the Trinity Alps it was driving me crazy what the genus, species was. It reminded me so much of the “Truffula Trees” and searching wild flowers in the region didn’t help. Now knowing what I took a picture of was actually the seed head, I know why my search didn’t turn up any matching results.

    I love the incorporation of the Dr. Seuss book with a little bit of background ;) What a great site!

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