The pasque flower promise

Farm Forum

My hubby and I drove up to our hilly north pasture last evening to take a peek if there was any sign of green grass emerging. To our surprise we were met with a myriad number of surprises notwithstanding the greening of the pasture. For once, the wind wasn’t blowing and we could actually enjoy having the pickup windows rolled down and bask in the light of the fading sunset. It was glorious. One might even say romantic. Ah-h-h! Yes! Spring had finally arrived, and then I spotted something that was a sure sign of spring. And the story goes like this…

I lead motto

There it was. That forever returning and first reminder of spring in Dakota land–our State Flower – the beautiful prairie pasque flower proudly showing its colors. What excitement to see its pale lilac blooms vigorously growing amongst the tufts of dried prairie grass! This year the flower bunches were few and far between due to the lack of moisture. But lack of moisture or not, the pasque flower knew it had to return and fulfill its South Dakota State motto of: “I lead.”

I had never heard of this motto and it tweaked my interest. So with some more research on the topic I discovered a most interesting website titled: “South Dakota State Floral Emblem” (

The following data is some of the information I obtained from the article:

“Attention to the pasque or wind flower in South Dakota dates back to a time long before Europeans settled in the area. The first flower to show its blossoms in the spring and was the subject of Plains Indian songs and legends. As the first blossom to show itself in the spring, the pasque flower lent itself to legend and an endearing place in the hearts of early settlers.

“The history of the pasque flower, its abundance and its spring wake-up call made it a natural choice for the floral emblem of South Dakota. There were other favorites however, among them cactus flowers and the wild rose. In the end, the pasque flower was the choice.

“The pasque flower, along with the motto ‘I lead,’ was approved as the official floral emblem of South Dakota on May 5, 1903.

“South Dakota is the only state to have incorporated a motto with adoption of its floral emblem. ‘I lead’ compliments nicely the first blooms of spring.

“The pasque flower is known by many names. The Lakota name for the flower is hosi cekapa, meaning ‘child’s navel.’ Some other names include: wind flower, blue anemone, Hartshorne plant, gosling plant, American pulstilla, prairie crocus, prairie smoke, sand flower, rock lily, headache plant, Coventry bells and the May Day flower.”

Famed May Flower Hill

Definitely some interesting data to contemplate, but all the different names for the pasque flower made me recall what my own children came to call the pasque flower and why.

In our family, we unusually referred to the pasque flower by its more common name– the May flower. We called it the May flower because we usually went looking for the flowers around May 1st in the aforementioned hilly pasture area. Our kids later named this section of the pasture: “Mayflower Hill” and to this day—that’s what we all call the spot.

Anyway, there were some years when we went up to check on the pasture, that the whole hillside was covered with May flowers. When this happened, well, kids being kids, they dove head first into the flowers. And then, after rolling around for a while amongst the sea of blooms, they finally stopped and picked huge bouquets of flowers to take to their teachers.

What did our ancestors see?

And who knows, but maybe this is what our ancestors saw—a sea of purple flowers. It kind of makes me wonder. Just imagine for a moment, coming across the prairies in your covered wagons and seeing an ocean of purple blooms waving a welcome to you from the tall virgin prairie grasses. It must have been quite a sight! No wonder they wanted to come to this beautiful land. But, the times they are a changing, I’m afraid.

For this year, being a dry winter and more virgin prairie grasses being torn up, a body had to really do some walking and searching in order to find a few blossoms. I walked all over May Flower hill and only picked a few blossoms because of the scarcity of plants.

I then brought them home and immediately placed the flowers into a small teacup full of water. I put the bouquet in the center of our kitchen table for decoration, but more importantly to remind me of their importance and their significance to our state.

I know that the blossom bouquet won’t last very long, but it is an annual tradition. I just have to have a few of the tender flowers to remind me that spring is truly here. I also realize that even in late April or early May we can still get a snow storm, but this tiny Mayflower bouquet promises me that even if the snow does comes; it won’t last very long.

The promise

In keeping with the traditions of the early settlers and our Plains Indians, our state residents still revere the pasque flower. It is said to have medicinal properties, it is our state emblem, but most of all it is revered because it always keeps its promise. With its annual emergence, the pasque flower is the one that says: “I lead. I promise to lead you into another spring season of rebirth and regrowth.”

Jane Green and her husband, Jim, live near Clark. Contact Jane for some public speaking, to order one of her books, or to register your comments. E-mail her at: