Primroses and Primulas


Well that will teach me to sing the praises of Spring arriving as, this week, she scurried off elsewhere to allow Winter to hang around a bit longer.  Night frosts and cold, grey days are not conducive to getting seeds to germinate.  However the wild flowers all around are still telling the world that it is spring, not least the primroses.  We do not just have primroses adorning our banks and woodland edges and did you know that there are several different members of the same family of flowers - the primulas?

Primroses - Primula vulgaris

These are the first of the primulas to appear in spring with clumps of pale yellow flowers 20-40mm across on short stalks.

Primrose - primula vulgaris

Cowslips - Primula veris

Appearing a bit later, cowslips have deep yellow flowers, 9-15mm across borne on stalks up to 25cm tall.

Cowslip - Primula veris

Oxlip - Primula elatior

Originally the oxlip was thought to be a cross between a primrose and a cowslip and although hybrids do occur, the oxlip is also a true species in it's own right.   It has yellow flowers, 15mm across on stems up to 25cm tall which are midway in colour between that of primroses and cowslips.  It is quite rare but you can find it in several places local to the gite in March and April.  On true oxlips, the flowers all hang in one direction where-as on the hybrids they are distriubuted in all directions.

Oxlip - Primula elatior

Hybrid Primulas

These are the cultivated primroses you see in gardens - they vary in colour from pale pink and purple to violet and dark red.  These should never be planted in the wild where they could cross with wild primula species.

Hybrid primulas

Hybrid primulas

Some Primrose Etymology

The name primrose derives from the Old French word primerose or medieval Latin prima rosa, meaning "first rose", but it is not related to roses.  The names cowslip and oxlip have 2 possible derivations: either from the old English for cow dung as they often grow in cow pastures or they may be so named because they grow in wet, slippery ground.  Veris is the Latin for Spring. 

As with many wild flowers, cowslips go by a wide variety of local names including cuy lippe, herb peter, paigle, peggle, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, petty mulleins, crewel, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, tittypines. (Source wikipedia).

Have you seen any primula species this spring?

Primula species