A perennial rhizomatous herb of species-rich turf on the slopes of chalk or oolite escarpments, and the banks of ancient earthworks, usually with a S. or S.W. aspect. Plants produce viable seed, but seedling establishment is rare. Lowland.
This species was lost from many sites as a result of agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th centuries. The decline continues, even on nature reserves, as relict chalk grassland ceases to be grazed and suffers from fertiliser drift. It also occurs as a garden escape and may have been planted on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.
European Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe.
Light (Ellenberg): 7
Moisture (Ellenberg): 3
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.3
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16
Annual Precipitation (mm): 664
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 69
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.5
Scarce Atlas Account
Pulsatilla vulgaris Miller
This is a perennial herb of grazed and ungrazed grasslands, confined in England to relatively shallow (5-15 cm), calcareous soils. Most colonies occur on steep south to south-west facing slopes on the escarpment of the chalk or Jurassic limestone, or in similar grassland in old quarries and on ancient earthworks. At sites where P. vulgaris is common, the grassland is characteristically rich in species, with a high proportion of dicotyledons including, most commonly, Asperula cynanchica, Campanula rotundifolia, Centaurea nigra, Filipendula vulgaris, Hippocrepis comosa, Lotus corniculatus, Pilosella officinarum, Pimpinella saxifraga, Plantago lanceolata, P. media, Thymus polytrichus and T. pulegioides. Briza media, Bromopsis erecta, Carex caryophyllea, C. flacca, Festuca ovina and Koeleria macrantha are also common associates.
P. vulgaris is a long-lived perennial with an extensive rootstock. It reproduces mostly vegetatively, by the growth of adventitious buds on the rhizome which form small daughter rosettes near to the mother plant. Plants can be found in flower from the middle of March to late June, but the main period of flowering is from about 6 April to 20 May. Flower production varies considerably from year to year, even at sites where the turf remains short. Flower production decreases as competition from tall grasses increases, a sharp fall in flowering occurring when the average height of the vegetation reaches 10-15 cm. Although some colonies regularly produce considerable amounts of viable seed, establishment from seed is a rare event. Colonisation of new sites is unknown, partly because of lack of a dispersal mechanism but, more importantly, because of the combination of special requirements for germination and establishment. Reports of ‘new’ sites far-removed from known sites should always be treated with suspicion.
P. vulgaris has been lost from many of its former localities, mainly because of habitat destruction (Wells 1968). Lack of management and scrub encroachment pose a serious threat to about half of the localities from which it is still known. Small populations are particularly at risk.
P. vulgaris subsp. vulgaris is widely distributed across north-west Europe on calcareous and sandy soils, but diminishing as habitat destruction continues (Jalas & Suominen 1989). It is replaced by subsp. grandis (Wenderoth) Zamels in eastern Europe.
For further information on this species, see Wells & Barling (1971).
T. C. E. Wells
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1989)
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
1994. Scarce plants in Britain.
1971. Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 120. Pulsatilla vulgaris Mill. Journal of Ecology. 59:275-292.