Pulsatilla: Pasque Flower

Pulsatilla in a rock garden


Pulsatilla or Pasque Flower

Pulsatilla is famous for blooming at Easter time and was given the common name of Pasque Flower for “pasque” means Passover in the Christian religion. Pulsatilla is affectionately called windflower for the Greek meaning of the word “anemos” means “daughter of the wind.” Pulsatilla is at its best when a breeze causes the blossoms to nod softly.

pulsatilla seed head
Pulsatilla forms fluffy seed heads or fruit after blooming that are attractive for drying or cut flowers.

The attractive, silky tufts of pulsatilla are often accused of being aggressive when seeding but this darling has never naturalized or reseeded in my northern gardens. The attractive seed heads are like another round of flowering for they look quite dramatic in the garden or the vase. The foliage is deeply divided but pasque flowers have finer, ferny-like foliage that stays attractive and continues growing until frost. It will stay small and tidy as long as it is planted in shade. In sunlight, it’s fine, silky hairs will glisten.

pulstilla foliage
The bright green foliage will continue to expand throughout the growing season.

The bright green, fine, ferny foliage of pulsatilla will continue expanding in the sunshine of a cool weather garden (like those in high mountain valleys). A member of the Ranunculus or buttercup family, this favorite perennial has many well-known family members, including delphiniums, thalictrums, trollius and aconitums. Most have retained their early ancestral characteristics over time. The flowers are bisexual, meaning the plant has both male and female reproductive structures, which allows them to fertilize themselves. Only twenty-three species out of thousands of Ranunculus are native to North America and pulsatilla is a famous native.

Pulsatilla vulgaris was thriving in the tundra areas of North Dakota when the first settlers arrived. Still beloved, they have been affectionately honored as the state flower. The plants grow low to the ground on short stubby stems for protection against the cold. Fine hair on both the petals and flowers gives another layer of protection from the cold. It seems that anything that grows in North Dakota will grow anywhere. They send up a solitary bell from a basal whorl of only a couple of leaves at the start of their season.

Most Buttercup or Ranunculus family members contain compounds that are toxic to humans and animals giving them wildlife resistant qualities. They contain acrid oils so handling plants may cause a skin irritation or allergic reaction.

Propagation of anemone and pulsatilla is best done by spring division for allowing the seeds to naturalize in western gardens is “iffy.” Some seeds may germinate but dividing the rhizome root ball is a better method in the Rocky Mountains. Be sure to dig roots in spring, for fall dividing does not give enough time for the root system to develop fully before the onset of winter. Plant at our previous height about a foot apart.

pulsatilla rock garden gritty soil
The velvety flowers of Pulsatilla planted in the gritty soil of a rock garden are a fine alpine perennial. It will grow in any soil from chalk to loam and is not fussy about the pH of the soil.

Front edgings or under plantings in country gardens look wonderful when planted with pulsatilla and anemone (or snowdrops) together, especially when they are allowed to form a huge swath of spring color.

Pulsatilla in a rock garden
A plant this lovely needs to grace every garden.

If you’ve waited patiently and spring is just too slow in coming, you can create your own Pulsatila Pasque Flowers from crepe paper. Just follow the subtitled instructions in this video:

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