Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Pasque Flowers

Northamptonshire is not noted for its wild flowers. In fact statistics suggest that it has lost a greater proportion of its flowers than any other English county. Nevertheless it does have its treasures, none greater than the Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, which flowers  in its thousands at Barnack Hills and Holes Reserve.

I grow the Pasque Flower in my own garden and about four years ago I noticed that one of my plants had about double the usual number of "petals". There are normally five of these structures which, like its relative the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), are really sepals which have taken on the form and job of true petals. (Such structures are often called "tepals".) The original form is, to my mind, more attractive but annoyingly all my normal Pasque Flowers have disappeared, leaving only this variant.
Pasque Flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, with extra
tepals. My garden in Byfield, 24 April, 2013

So, what about the name? The word pasch is a Scottish word - now obsolete - for Easter, and the Pasque Flower does indeed bloom at about this time. It may also come from the French passefleur, again with links to Easter, and yet dictionaries tend to use words like "perhaps" and "possibly" when providing a definition.  I find that George Claridge Druce, in his "Flora of Northamptonshire", published in 1929, uses the word pascual to describe (on page cxl) plants "of pastures and grassy commons" - precisely the habitat of the wild Pasque Flower. I have been unable to find the word in either my Chambers' Dictionary nor in standard on-line dictionaries. I did however find it defined in the Merriam-Webster "extra" dictionary of rarely-used words and so surprised were the compilers that they enquired as to where I had found the word. Their definition was "related to or growing in pastures". It is odd how a simple thought can lead one down an overgrown path. So, to return to my original thought, does "Pasque" really derive from this obscure and obsolete meaning? 

Until about 1970 The Pasque Flower was regarded as a species of Anemone (as Anemone pulsatilla). The fruit has a long and feathery appendage and in this respect resembles many Clematis species. All the genera mentioned - Caltha, Anemone, Pulsatilla and Clematis are included in the the odd and diverse Buttercup Family, giving rise to much debate among botanists, and it seems possible that the family may eventually be broken up.

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