The Pasque Flower

The Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is a beautiful purple flowering plant that is from the buttercup family. It would have been widespread in England until changes to farming techniques in the 18th& 19th Century.   It now naturally occurs in 18 or so limestone and chalk sites in the South of England, including our own Barnack Hills & Holes. The Barnack siting is one of only five prominent locations where the Pulsatilla occurs in large numbers.

The flower gets its name from the Latin for Easter (Pasca) almost certainly because it blossoms in early to mid-spring, coinciding with the Christian celebration. The flower prefers, low nutrient, grazed, limestone grassland.  It struggles to compete with rank grasses and scrub like bramble and blackthorn.  

 

Whilst in bloom, the flower is visited by a large number of varieties of solitary bees, which make it an important pollinator for our little reserve. Late April - May sees the flower begin to ‘turn over’ and it loses it petals, there remains a long hairy achene or seed that is almost as beautiful. Carrying both female and male organs, the Pulsatilla self-fertilises. It is believed that climatic conditions must be perfectly aligned for it to propagate for example an unbroken period of frost, followed by sustained warm, sunny weather. 

 It is these conditions and the fact it only enjoys calcareous sites that makes the flower quite delicate & hard to spread. In fact at Barnack the flower was once only present in one of the compartments until the Wildlife Trust reintroduced grazing at the H&H in the 1970s. 

Each year volunteers and staff alike, conduct flora counts of the most rare of Barnack’s flora.  The surveys show that some of the rare orchids like the Man Orchid are in decline, whilst the Pasque Flower has shown a steady increase, with of numbers reaching the 1000s in the past 20 years. 

Monitoring of the same fixed areas across the reserve has shown that the average number of Pasque flowers has more than doubled. In the first five years of the 1980’s an average of 1975 Pasque flowers were counted. In the last five years of monitoring the average in the same monitored areas has been 3972. This does not take into account that the plant is also spread over a much wider area of the reserve appearing in the past two years in the centre of compartment four which was heavily covered in trees and scrub up until 2000.

Steve Bighi, Natural England Warden BHH.