A Blast from the Pasque; Steeped in Myths and Legends, This Tiny Treasure Is at Its Stunning Best at Easter

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Blast from the Pasque; Steeped in Myths and Legends, This Tiny Treasure Is at Its Stunning Best at Easter


Byline: MARTYN COX In the Garden

AT THE end of this long Easter weekend, many of us will have gained a few unwanted pounds after eating too many chocolate eggs or hot cross buns. Yet not all Easter treats are full of calories - the pasque flower is a stunning seasonal plant whose blooms are a feast for the eyes.

The large trumpet or bell-shaped flowers are held on short stems above rounded clumps of fern-like leaves that are covered in silky hairs. These diminutive treasures are at their best for up to six weeks before their flowers fade. Even then, their wispy seed heads continue to provide interest well into summer.

Ideal in beds, rockeries, borders, gravel gardens and pots, this tribe of deciduous perennials boasts flowers in shades of white, yellow, red, pink, blue and purple. Flowers measure up to three-and-a-half inches wide, depending on variety, and a good-sized plant will produce dozens of blooms.

Native to meadows, prairies and mountainous regions of North America, as well as Europe and Asia, pasque flowers (pulsatilla) have been given their common name because the flowers often open at Easter time.

Pasque is a French word that comes from the Latin word pascha, meaning Easter - and this word derives from pesach, the Hebrew for passover.

Growing wild around the world, pulsatilla is a plant steeped in myths and legends, many of which are downright gloomy. The ancient Greeks thought the flowers sprang up from the tears of the goddess Aphrodite after she found out about the death of a lover, while the Chinese associated pulsatilla with death and planted it in graveyards. Korean pasque flower (Pulsatilla koreana) is known as the grandmother flower in its native country - in a traditional fairy tale, a widow dies after being shunned by her children and is reincarnated as a purple pasque bloom.

Native Americans were more upbeat. Some tribes thought American pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) represented the human life cycle. The closed bud represented a baby; the open flower was a child, which developed into an adult; and the silvery seed head symbolised old age. Blackfoot Indians crushed its leaves to treat rheumatism and neuralgia.

Pulsatilla vulgaris is the only species to grow wild in Britain. It forms clumps of light green foliage and boasts large purple flowers held on 8in stalks with a cluster of golden yellow stamens in the centre.

Great swathes of the flower were once common, but it can now only be found clinging on in about 18 different sites. In some places it's known as Dane's blood, because it was thought to grow on Viking burial mounds.

Nobody knows when wild pasque flowers were first grown as ornamental plants in gardens, but by the middle of the 17th Century they were obviously a favourite among the horticultural cognoscenti, as Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal, first published in 1653, states: 'They are sown usually in the gardens of the curious.'

Breeding work on our own species has led to a raft of varieties with bigger and brighter flowers. P. vulgaris 'Weisser Schwan' grows to about 8in and produces lots of goldeneyed, starry white flowers. …

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