Summer’s finally come to Whistler Valley and the plants have taken full advantage. Most are past flowering and now starting to produce fruit (including the delicious wild huckleberries and salmonberries). In the alpine, meanwhile, it’s barely spring and the flowers are just starting.
The first green to emerge from most alpine snow patches belongs to western anemone, a plant which can teach a lot about the advantages of good preparation and speedy completion. Within days after snowmelt, western anemones start to flower. Pollination is also speedy, helped along by a constant stream of fly and bee visitors.
After pollination, the flowers quickly mature into seeds and that’s where the confusion starts. At first (and second) glance, it’s hard to believe the tidy. white-petalled flower is related to the dishevelled plant it’s sometimes found beside. Yet they’re both western anemones in different growth stages.
The confusion is compounded by the plethora of common names. It’s misleadingly called pasqueflower (from the French for Easter) in recognition of the early flowering of a relative in the buttercup family which really does flower at Easter. But most of the names refer to its appearance while in seed, like tow-headed baby, moptop, and the somewhat twisted mouse-on-a-stick.
Another name, windflower, describes how the seeds are disseminated. This characteristic is also reflected in the genus name, derived from the Greek word for wind, anemos.
Because common names are so variable (as seen in spades by this plant), scientists use a very exacting system of Latin names to describe species. Ironically, these same scientists are in the midst of a huge debate over whether the plant should be left in the Anemone genus, or moved to Pulsatilla. So much for science clearing up any confusion!
Regardless of what we call it, western anemone is a beautiful harbinger of spring in the alpine. Now’s the time to check it out.
August 2 – Sunset Nature Walk. Train Wreck. Meet rain or shine at the railway tracks south of Function Junction at 7:00 p.m. Free for members, $2 for non-members.
Website of the week: For great photos of western anemone and 20,999 other species (most taken by a monk), click on http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/photos/flora/
Written by: Bob Brett