Amid a Sea of Wild Pasque Flowers

Seeing the beautiful, unfurling Pasque flower at the Botanics the other day reminded me that I last year I discovered that I live close to one of the rare places in the UK where this little charmer grows wild and well.


Pasque flowers on Therfield Common

Pulsatilla vulgaris is on the 2015 IUCN Redlist of threaten species. Currently there are about twenty sites (in the UK) where it can be found naturally and several of those comprise a small number of flowers.

Pasque flower grows on best on short limy turf. The best management for the land, in order to maintain the population, is to let sheep graze the land in the winter, because the seed needs bare soil to germinate. Happily for me, Therfield Common in Hertfordshire has a large population. This is likely due to the sensitive management of the area by the Conservators of the Heath, which includes fencing to keep rabbits off the hill at this time of year to stop the flower buds from being eaten.

In a good year the population of pasque flowers at Therfield can reach thousands and that is how a couple of years ago a good portion of the seed was gathered for the Millennium Seed Bank.


Sourced from Cambridge Evening News (2014 I think)

With Easter already passed, I checked the feed from the Therfield website and saw the breaking news was that on Good Friday there were already some flowers out. So I decided to take a detour on the way to the supermarket to take a look at site.

It was a fairly sunny day, but with a strong wind. Amazingly, when I finally found the site, I had the place to myself except for one person. He was sitting on a bench being philosophical about not being able to do decent macro work in the gusting wind. His camera was much bigger than mine!


Red-tailed bumblebee on Pulsatilla vulgaris

However, I was so happy to see them that I was immediately on my stomach taking pictures of the flowers with my pocket compact. Their numbers aren’t huge yet and it is not exactly a sea of purple, but there are alot of emerging fluffy tufts in evidence in the sward. The guy on the bench (who I took to be a regular) reckoned that they will crescendo some time in the next week or two.


Pasque flower with a rather pretty, flat Heath snail

Meanwhile, you can see that the flowers are already being used (and abused) by the local wildlife. There were a lot of Heath snails (Helicella itala) about for instance, but from googling images for ‘Therfield’ and ‘Pasque flowers’ this seems to be par for the course in any year.

As you take your time to look at the grassland for the flowers, you begin to see that it is full of other insects too. I didn’t even notice the spider when I took the picture of the seven-spotted ladybird.


Seven-spotted labybird and friend amongst the silverweed

There were a lot of last year’s dried flower spikes of the diminutive carline thistle over the hillside. They looked lovely, especially catching the flickering sunlight, but they certainly made ground work painful.


Last year’s Carline thistle

Between the Pulsatilla the cowslips are getting ready for their chance to shine. I can imagine how wonderful it will look as the swath of purple transforms into gold.


Cowslips about to send up their drooping flower umbels


Pulsatilla vulgaris flower never opens completely, only to about 100 degs

The hillside’s purple hue is not down to just pasque flowers, because there is also a sizable population of dog violets weaving though the grasses.


Church Hill is beginning to be covered with pasque flowers – 05/04/2016

The site is largely unmarked, but it is open to all. On a hard-to-read, corroded board at the top of the actual hill people are asked to stick to the path. However, there are no other signs and there isn’t a very obvious route until you are half way across the hill.


A worn chalk path gives access to the pasque flowers on the hillside

I think that my mid-week trip was ideally timed. I suspect that a weekend viewing would be much more like queueing to see the crown jewels.


Pasque flower on Church Hill

One of the nicest things about the visit was that for the whole time I was there I was immersed in birdsong from the resident skylarks. They are always tricky to locate in the sky, but I like to do so, so that I can watch their rapid descent to ground. Here is one that I managed to catch on camera.


Skylarks abound in the skies above Therfied Common

I am ending this post by including a short video by Fred Rumsey, a botanist at the Natural History Museum, in which he talks about Pasque flowers and their occurrence on Therfield Common.




About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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20 Responses to Amid a Sea of Wild Pasque Flowers

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Such a little beauty! Enjoyed the video, thanks so much!

  2. Such an interesting post, thank you. The video is excellent, makes you think about the problems caused by changes in land management and the havens provided by ancient sites.

  3. Chloris says:

    Oh how wonderful, what an amazing sight. I have never seen them growing in the wild like this. Thank you so much for this lovely post Allison.

  4. susurrus says:

    Great post and I enjoyed the video too. It’s the hairy foliage that always catches my eye. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them growing in the mass or the wild until now.

  5. Sam says:

    Beautiful flower and great photos. You don’t need a massive lens 🙂

  6. Robbie says:

    STUNNING!!!!! I am trying to grow our native pasque this fall (Anemone patens wolfgangiana- Pasque Flower) What beautiful photos and so inspiring. I love the birds this time of year.
    I love your attitude when someone else was grumbling about not gettting a shot…get down on the ground, dirt and all! Love it:-) my way to get a great shot:-)

  7. Nutmeg says:

    Stunning display! Thank you!

    • They really were a sight. As I came round the hill I saw one or two, then more clusters, until I realised they were all over, but they were not really colouring the turf purple yet. In a week maybe …..

  8. Christina says:

    Lovely, I’ve seen them in the Apennines, high on an alpine meadow. We all seem to be out enjoying wildlife as well as the flowers in our gardens. Yesterday we saw a small flock of about 40 flamingos fly in and land at a disused sea salt plant.

  9. Pingback: Fresh beech leaves – a forager’s delight | Frogend dweller's Blog

  10. Pingback: A Hillside of Perfect Purple Pasque Flowers | Frogend dweller's Blog

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