The pasque flower is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial that stands about 8 to 12 inches tall and forms a clump that spreads over time. Its blooms precede most of its foliage in spring. The most common pasque has bluish-purple or dark violet flowers, but there are cultivars that offer other color choices, including white and reddish-purple ('Rote Glocke' is reddish-purple).
These perennials are rabbit-proof and are very bee-friendly. They are fairly drought-tolerant and are well-suited to dry climates with cold winters, though they do need regular watering in summer. Like tulips, they emerge early in spring, even before all the snow is gone in some areas.
Pasque Flower Taxonomy
Pasque is the Old French word 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."
The plant is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Other plants in this family include:
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."
Pasque Flower Characteristics
The leaves of the pasque are grayish-green and lacy. Silky hairs cover not only the leaves but also the stems and buds, 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 argue that the outstanding feature of the 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.
Growing Pasque Flowers
Indigenous to open areas of Europe and Asia, pasque can be grown in planting zones 4 to 8. Plant it in full sun to part shade and in a well-drained, sandy or humusy soil with an alkaline or neutral pH.
Water the plants one to three times weekly, watering at their base twice each time to ensure deep saturation of the soil. The soil should drain well so the plants to not have wet feet.
Pasque flowers do best in relatively cool, dry climates, including at high elevations. This makes them a popular choice in the dryer, cooler areas of the Midwest and throughout much of the western areas at high elevations.
Landscaping and Medicinal Uses
With its short stature, clumping growth habit, and need for good drainage, pasque flowers are ideal for rock gardens or as edging plants, perhaps bordering a hillside path. The plant is suitable for xeriscaping, 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."