Plant of the Week – Primula vulgaris

First written and posted on 29th October, 2013. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

I’ve decided to start sharing the plant profiles I write as part of the theory work I do on the Professional Gardeners’ Guild Traineeship. Some of the information is a tad technical and might be boring for some of you but if you enjoy this one then I will continue to post them – let me know what you think! The first “Plant of the Week” is the common primrose, Primula vulgaris. I hope you find it interesting 🙂

Primula vulgaris, the primrose

Genus: Primula 

Species: vulgaris

Family: Primulaceae

Common name: Primrose

Type of plant: Herbaceous perennial

Origin: Native to the United Kingdom

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Primula vulgaris are full sun or partial shade, in a sheltered position with moist but well-drained soil.

Soil: They can tolerate most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline and neutral: and chalk, clay, sand and loam.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: It is easy to propagate them by seed or root basal cuttings.

Cultivation: Primula vulgaris are popularly grown as biennials for bedding, in containers and rock gardens. They are typical low maintenance plants, commonly seen growing wild in hedgerows. They add a very appealing look to cottage and informal gardens, wildflower meadows and banks and slopes, requiring little attention once planted. They are best know for their wonderful fragrant flowers, which first appear in spring time.

Pest and disease problems

The common pests which usually attack Primula vulgaris are aphids, vine weevils, slugs and red spider mite. It can also be subject to leaf spot and grey mould.

Interesting Facts

1. Most people don’t know the difference between polyanthus and primroses, and think they are the same plant – it is confusing but there are some specific differences:

Polyanthus is a common name for flowers part of the primula genus. They are known for being similar to primroses, but unlike primroses the flowers stand on a single stalk, proud of the leaves of the plant. Polyanthus plants are known to be a natural hybrid between the cowslip (Primula veris) and the common primrose (Primula vulgaris). Polyanthus flowers come in a wide range of colours and shades. They are often admired for their bright multi coloured petals and ability to brighten up any garden, and as such are one of the most popular choices of bedding plants for winter and spring.

Pin-eyed flower

Primroses also come from the primula genus, however a few things separate them to polyanthus. Primroses are closely related to the cowslip, but are also known to be linked to the oxlip (Primula elatior) too. The flowers are on short stems at the base of the plant, surrounding the leaves. What really makes them unique from polyanthus is the fact they have two different types of flowers, that look almost identical to the untrained eye. One type is called pin-eyed (female) and the other is thrum-eyed (male). In pin-eyed flowers the stigma (the top of the female reproductive organ) is visible in the opening at the centre of the flower – it looks like a flat, green disk. In thumb-eyed flowers the anthers (the tops of the male reproductive organs) are visible in the centre – they look like long, green sacs. Fertilization takes place between a pin-eyed flower and a thrum-eyed flower but not between flowers of the same type.

Thrum-eyed flower

Primroses originally were known for their creamy yellow colouring, but now come in as vast array of colours as the polyanthus.

2. The Latin genus for primroses, primula, comes from the Latin primus meaning first, because they are the first flowers to appear in spring.

3. Primroses typically flower from March to June although they may flower throughout the year in sheltered hedge banks in Cornwall and copses in Sussex. Reproduction occurs by seeds, which are dispersed by ants.

4. The perennial species of Primula vulgaris is evergreen, but occasional aestivates, meaning it becomes dormant in summer during hot, dry weather.

5. Primroses have been picked for sale and for decorating churches for generations; this practice was criticised in the 1970s and 1980s, as wild-flower picking became unfashionable due to the concerns of conservationists.

6. Various parts of the primrose were used in herbal medicine; the root was used as a reliable and safe emetic (induces vomiting) and as an antispasmodic, the whole plant was thought to be a sedative, the leaves were used to treat wounds and primrose tea was believed to relieve nervous disorders.

7. Outside of the UK the primrose occurs in southern, western and south central Europe; other subspecies are found in southern Europe and North Africa.

8. A single primrose plant may live for fifteen to twenty five years.

9. The 19th April is known as Primrose day! This is the anniversary of the death of the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (who died on April 19th 1891). The primrose was his favourite flower and Queen Victoria supposedly sent him bunches on a regular basis. According to tradition, primrose flowers are laid at Disraeli’s statue by Westminster Abbey on this date every year.

10. The humble primrose was chosen as the County flower of Devon!

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