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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.