|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 “Páscha.” 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.