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Yellow Pheasant’s Eye Adonis vernalis L.

Yellow Pheasant’s Eye Adonis vernalis  L.

In late April and early May brightly-coloured yellow flowers of Yellow Pheasant’s Eye shine in the sunlight on slopes and gentle tops of steppe hills. The Latin generic name of the plant is Adonis. In ancient Greek mythology Adonis was a charming young man who amazed Aphrodite, the goddess of love, by his beauty. Aphrodite turned Adonis into a crimson flower after his death. The plant is truly beautiful, showing long stems with elegant, finely divided leaves and magnificent sun-like flowers.

The range of Yellow Pheasant’s Eye covers a vast area from Spain to Lena river basin in Russia mainly in forest-steppe zone in hilly terrain with sufficient water drainage. It is quite common at some sites, but apparently absent at others where conditions for its growth are still fairly suitable. Other Adonis species are spread in Mediterranean region, in Alps, Western and Central Asia, Himalayas, Western China, Siberia and Far East. Many of them have red flowers.

Yellow Pheasant’s Eye is a perennial plant. The lifespan is very long. It is assumed that the oldest plants are well over 150 years old (!), and usually an individual plant reaches maturity only to 40-50 years. So, when you are looking at Yellow Pheasant’s Eye flowers it’s not impossible that it is exactly the same plant, which once attracted your grandfathers or forefathers. A young plant has only one shoot but additional stalks appeared with ageing as well as a vigorous root system. Some roots penetrate into the soil just slightly deeper than 2 m. When a plant is in full vigour it blossoms every year but later on pauses in flowering become usual, in some cases up to 7-8 years. Yellow Pheasant’s Eye propagates only by seeds. The fruit consists of numerous one-seeded achenes. The seeds are dispersed by ants which are attracted by the oily appendices of the achene. Only those seeds germinate which are within the upper 2 cm layer of the soil. The seeds preserve germination ability only for one year.

People are acquainted with useful properties of Yellow Pheasant’s Eye for a long time. Ancient Greeks already knew this. Not very long ago it was found out that glycosides of leaves can affect the heart rate and force of contraction. Yellow Pheasant’s Eye remedies have a sedative action, and are used when treating cardioneurosis and impaired cardiac function. In ancient times colorants extracted from Yellow Pheasant’s Eye rhizomes were used for dying silks to get yellow colour.

Yellow Pheasant’s Eye is listed in Red Data Book of Ukraine. The plant became rare everywhere as a result of overexploitation for medicinal purposes. Yellow Pheasant’s Eye is very sensitive to shading. It perishes when artificial forest stands are created on steppe sites, and persists only on clearings and along forest edges. The species is threatened by over-picking, steppe fires and excessive grazing too. Special protection regime should be enforced in sites where Yellow Pheasant’s Eye is still common.

Mikhail Banik