Plant taxonomy classifies Pasque flower (sometimes written as one word) as Pulsatilla vulgaris. Another common name for this plant is "Easter flower," not to be confused with Easter lily. The plant is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Other plants in this family include:
Pasque Flower's Characteristics and Best Selling Point
Pasque flower is a low-growing perennial (8 to 12 inches high). The plant forms a clump that spreads over time. The blooms precede most of the foliage in spring; besides lavender flowers commonly seen, there are cultivars that offer other color choices, including white and reddish-purple (for example, 'Rote Glocke,' translated into English as 'Red Clock,' is a reddish-purple cultivar). Happily, these perennials are rabbit-proof flowers.
Its leaves are grayish-green and lacy. Silky hairs cover not only the leaves but also the stems and buds of Pasque flower, giving it a fuzzy look. The wispy seed heads that succeed the flowers are attractive in their own right.
Of its many fine qualities, one could say that the outstanding feature of Pasque flower is that it is an early bloomer, rivaling spring bulbs such as snowdrops. There is something special about the first blooms that greet us in early spring after a long winter, making all such early bloomers perennial favorites with gardeners.
Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements for Pasque Flower
Indigenous to open areas of Europe and Asia, Pasque flower can be grown in planting zones 4 to 8. Pulsatilla patens is a similar plant native to northern Eurasia; it is also a native wildflower on the North American prairie, where it grows with such plants as plains coreopsis. P. patens used to be designated Anemone patens, just as Hepatica plants used to be classified as anemones.
Landscaping, Medicinal Uses
With its short stature, clumping growth habit, and need for good drainage, Pasque flower was made for rock gardens or as an edging plant to border a hillside path. The plant is suitable for xeriscaping in the North, once established, if given sufficient shade.
Although this perennial has been used medicinally (for example, as a depressant, according to Henriette's Herbal) by trained herbalists, Drugs.com warns that Pasque flower is a poisonous plant, noting that it "is extremely toxic and should not be ingested or applied to the skin."
Meaning of the Name "Easter Flower," and of the Botanical Name
As mentioned above, another common name for Pasque flower is "Easter flower." Pasque is the Old French spelling for "Easter," and it is around that time of year that the plant blooms in some regions of the world. According to Botanical.com, the famous herbalist, John Gerard, "informs us that he himself was 'moved to name' this the Pasque Flower, or Easter Flower, because of the time of its appearance, it being in bloom from April to June."
As for the botanical name, the genus, Pulsatilla, means "beaten" (as in beaten by the wind, or "wind-blown"), referring perhaps to the way the flowers sway in the wind on the plains of their ancestral Eurasia. Meanwhile, vulgaris means "common."