Can you name a plant that has short stems and showy purple flowers at this time of year? Now add eye-catching seed heads, and the fact that it’s native to Colorado (and other cold-winter areas in both North America and Europe). This cultivated wildflower is Pasque Flower (or), named after its Easter time bloom.
Besides the lilac wildflowers, other purple shades are available in cultivated strains, from a deep purple-red to, rarely, white. Gray-green leaves appear after the flower buds, and may be more or less finely divided. They’re covered with silvery fuzz, giving a soft appearance that makes you want to pet them.
Wild plants are only a couple of inches tall, but those sold in the nursery trade get much larger—up to a foot tall and as wide. After the flowers fade, exotic-looking seed heads (technically fruits) grab your attention. They’re not brightly colored, but they are every bit as decorative as the blossoms.
There’s some confusion over the scientific name for this widespread flower. Some consider it an Anemone, while other botanists give it its own subgenus, Pulsatilla. There are approximately 33 species, but again, not all botanists agree on the taxonomy. The common names vary too: Pasque Flower, Pasqueflower, Wind Flower, Prairie Crocus, Easter Flower, and Meadow Anemone.
No matter what you call it, Pasque Flower is an excellent candidate for Colorado gardens. The plants are hardy from USDA zone 4 to 9. I have them growing wild under my ponderosas, where they survive in unfertile, sandy soil with no supplemental irrigation at 7,000 feet elevation. To me, that’s nothing short of a miracle! However, more congenial conditions—well-drained soil rich in humus—encourage more blooms. Choose a site in part shade to full sun. Water when soil dries out; the plants are somewhat drought-tolerant, but you don’t want them wilting.
Because of their short stature and early bloom, locate Pasque Flower in the front of the landscape where they’ll be noticed. They make good rock garden plants, and combine well with other early bloomers such as Aubrieta (Rock Cress) and Basket of Gold.
The leaves and stems of Pasque Flower are very poisonous. Perhaps this is why rabbits and other wildlife tend to avoid nibbling on them.
Article and photos by Leslie Holzmann, Certified Colorado Gardener.