This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Villous, with long, silky hairs; flower erect, developed before the leaves ; leaves ternately divided, the lateral divisions two-parted, the middle one stalked and three-parted, the segments deeply once or twice cleft into narrowly linear and acute lobes ; lobes of the involucre, like those of the leaves, at the base all united into a shallow cup; sepals five to seven, purplish or whitish, spreading when in full anthesis. (Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. See also Wood's Class-Book.)
Anemone Patens, Var. Nuttalliana
HAT are called "genera" are as much realities as day and night, but it is as difficult, sometimes, to define the limits of the first as of the second; for, in nature, things glide into each other imperceptibly, as day glides into twilight before night comes.
We experience this difficulty in the case of the flower named above. It is an Anemone; and yet, in some respects, it borders so closely on Clcmatis that Pursh, one of our earliest botanists, thought it belonged to this genus, and called it C. hirsutissima, while others made it into a distinct genus, and called it Pulsatilla, which is the Italian common name of a closely allied species, and means, "Shaken by the wind." In Clematis there is little tendency to make petals, - indeed, about four petallike sepals are all that are generally produced, - and the seeds have long, silky tails to them. The Pulsatillas make a verticil of sepals, and have no real petals; and the seeds, as in Clematis, have silky tails. Dr. Gray, however, as well as other modern botanists, regards those Anemones, the seeds of which have Clematis-like tails (Pulsatillas), simply as a section of the genus. Our present species, which belongs to this section, has but a single row of large, pale-blue sepals, and these are as silky as the long-tailed seeds. What is called the involucre is a verticil of half-transformed leaves, the intermediate stage between perfect leaves and the sepals.
Our plant was discovered when the section just alluded to was known as the genus Pulsatilla, and was dedicated to the great American botanist, Thomas Nuttall; but it was soon found, on a better acquaintance with it, that it was no more distinct from the European and Asiatic form of A. patens than Pulsatilla is from Anemone, and it was, therefore, called " Anemone patens, var. Nuttalliana," to indicate that it is considered simply as a variety of the same species.
It seems to thrive remarkably well in gardens, and, although not of a bright color, attracts by the large size of the sepals. The carliness of its flowers is also a valued peculiarity. Our drawing was made in the middle of April from a specimen originally brought from the Rocky Mountains. It is said to flower before the leaves come out; but under culture, it has the leaves tolerably well developed before the flowers mature, as seen in our plate.
The Anemone patens commences its career as a "wild flower" on the western shores of Lake Michigan, reaches down into Illinois, and then extends northwest by the Rocky Mountains into British America, and, by connection with the typical species, into Siberia. The common name given to this plant is "Pasque-Flower," from the time of its flowering, it being looked for about Easter, or, as it was called in olden times, about the Paschal season.
The poets seem to have united in associating the idea of expectation with Anemone; not, however, from anything suggestive in the flower itself, but rather from the circumstances of its mythological history. (See Anemone nemorosa, p. 21.) The flower is of too transitory a character to be considered the symbol of " expectation," which should rather hope on to the last. Instead of being enduring and constant, our flower soon drops its petals. Its true character is better expressed in the following lines, the author of which we do not know: "There is a power, a presence, in the woods, A viewless Being, that with life and love Informs the reverential solitude. The rich air knows it, and the mossy sod. Thou, Thou art there, my God ! The silence and the sound In the low places breathe alike of Thee; The temple twilight of the gloom profound, The dew-cup of the frail Anemone."
The Anemone patens is indeed among the frailest of flowers, but it is not often found in the "reverential solitude " of lonely woods. It seems to prefer more exposed situations, and the writer of this never observed in it any nearer approach to a wood-loving habit than the fact that it grows under the scattered pine-trees of the Rocky Mountains.
Among the closely allied species of Europe and Asia many beautiful colored varieties have been found which commend themselves to the cultivator; but in this country we have noted only the one shade represented in the plate, although Don says there is a cream-colored variety here.
The same author also states that the prairie dogs are very fond of the early flowers. This is a singular taste, and we may well wonder, if the report be correct, what they find enjoyable in them, more especially when we consider the bad reputation which the plant had in times gone by. An old writer speaks of it as follows: "The Herb, Flower, or Root being taken inwardly in Substance, are without doubt deleterious, or deadly: It kills by making the Patient look Laughing all the while, whence it obtained the Name of Apium Risus (Laughing Parsley). And yet notwithstanding the Standers-by, or lookers-on, may think that the Patient is really a Laughing, or in a Laughing Humour, there is indeed no such thing. It only by its Poisonous qualities hurts the Senses and Understanding, thereby causing Foolishness; and Convulsing the Nerves, especially of the Mouth, Jaws, and Eyes, draws them this way and that way, and sometimes in a manner all ways, making the sick seem to the by-standers as if he continually Laughed, whereas it is only a Convulsive Motion, wringing or drawing of the Mouth and Jaws awry; and so the poor Patient, dying in this Condition, the lookers-on think he dies Laughing, and so report it, when at the same time there is no such matter, but he goes out of the World under the Sense of violent Convulsions, vehement Pain, and the most extreme Torment imaginable."
The ancients, however, also believed the Pasque Flower to have great power against venomous reptiles, and the old writer above quoted reports on this point as follows : " A cataplasm of the Herb or Root is applyed against the Bitings of Mad-Dogges, Vipers, Rattlesnakes, and other Poisonous Creatures ; and to places affected with Gout, Sciatica, etc, with admirable success." In our time, Aconite and other Ranunculaceous plants have deprived the Pasque-flowers of all medicinal reputation, but the story so quaintly told by our old author reminds us of another peculiarity in the life of the prairie dog.
It is well known that this animal burrows deep holes in the ground, the earth drawn out in working the burrow forming a little mound at the outlet. The popular belief is that the owl and the rattlesnake make their home in these underground chambers, and-that the three animals live together in peace and harmony. This is a remarkable fact, if true, since most snakes regard the young of birds and other animals as desirable delicacies. The writer has, however, often seen the owl on the mounds of the prairie dogs, and it is possible the rattlesnake part of the story'may be as correct as the other; but if this is so, might we not say, with as much reason as the ancients usually had for what they believed, that the prairie dogs use the flowers to protect themselves from the bites of their poisonous fellow-lodgers?
1. Full-sized plant.
2. Stamens and pistils after the sepals have fallen.
3. Head, with long-tailed achenia.
4. Single achene, or seed with tailed awn.