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Annuals, Flowers

Most primroses are native to the Himalayas and cool regions of southeast Asia and Europe.

Plants form a foliage rosette; at bloom time, typically circular, sometimes fragrant flowers with five petals rise above the leaves.

The petals usually overlap and are often indented at the apex, sometimes so deeply that each flower appears to have ten parts. Blossoms may be borne on individual stems, in clusters at stem ends, or in tiered, candelabra-like clusters along the stem.

Most primroses are spring blooming, but some start flowering in mid- to late winter in mild climates, and a few bloom in early summer. Some go dormant in late fall or winter; mark their location before they disappear.

Nearly all are good plants for the woodland garden.

Primula alpicola

To 20 in. high, 1 ft. wide. Elliptical, to 4 in. long, wrinkled, medium green leaves. Clusters of sulfur yellow (sometimes white or purple), bell-shaped blossoms in summer. Powerfully fragrant. Somewhat tender in coldest zones.

Primula auricula 'Walton', photo courtesy of J. S. Sira/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary
Primula auricula 'Walton', photo courtesy of J. S. Sira/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary

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Primula auricula

To 6–8 in. high and 1 ft.wide. Evergreen. Broad, leathery gray-green leaves, sometimes with mealy, powdery coating that spots and runs in rain. In early spring, bears clustered blooms in white, cream, yellow, orange, pink, rose, red, purple, blue, or brownish, with a white or yellow eye. Usually grown in pots for display. Many named varieties are offered; some have green or near-black flowers rimmed in mealy powder or in a contrasting color.

CaptionPrimula florindae
CaptionPrimula florindae

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Primula florindae

Grows 3 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Long-stemmed, toothed medium green leaves are broadly oval with heart-shaped base, to 9 in. long. Flowers are yellow, bell shaped, nodding; carried in clusters of up to 60. Most fragrant primrose and the latest to bloom. Late spring or summer. Ample water; will grow in a few inches of running water or in damp, low spot. Plants are late to appear in spring. Hybrids have red, orange, or yellow flowers.

Primula japonica

Grows 2 1/2 ft. high, 1 1/2 ft. wide. Spoon shaped, light green, to 9 in. long leaves. Tiered blossoms in purple with yellow eye; up to 5 whorls on each stout stem. Ample water; will grow at edge of pond, even in very shallow water.

Primula malacoides

Grows 8-15 in. high, 1 ft. wide. Evergreen. Soft, pale green, oval, 1 1/2 - 3 in. long leaves, with lobed and cut edges; carried on long stalks. Tiered blossoms in loose, lacy whorls along many upright stems. Shades of white, pink. rose, red and lavender in midwinter to late spring. Perennial in mildest winters but treated as an annual, potted plant or houseplant everywhere.

Primula obconica, photo courtesy of Photolibrary
Primula obconica, photo courtesy of Photolibrary

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Primula obconica

Grows to to 1 ft. high and wide. Perennial, but besttreated as annual. Soft, hairy,roundish leaves have hairy leafstalks; these hairs (except on Freedom and Libre strains) may irritate skin. Produces large, broad clusters of 1 1/2–2-in.-wide blooms in white, pink, salmon, lavender, or reddish purple in winter and spring; nearly ever-blooming in cool-summer areas. Use for bedding where winters are mild, as a houseplant in colder regions.

Primula polyanthus
Primula polyanthus

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Primula polyanthus

Grows 8-12 in. high, 9 in. wide. Fresh green, tongue shaped to 8 in. long leaves; resemble romaine lettuce leaves. Evergreen in milder climates. Large, full clusters of 1–2-in.-wide blossoms (miniature types are smaller). Almost any color; many very brilliant. ). Winter to early or midspring. Grow as annuals in hotsummer areas.

Primula veris, photo courtesy of Keith Burdett/Alamy
Primula veris, photo courtesy of Keith Burdett/Alamy

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Primula veris

To 4–10 in. high, 8 in. wide. Leaves similar to those of polyanthus primrose. Evergreen in milder climates.Clustered flowers are bright yellow, fragrant, 1/2–1 in. wide, produced in early spring.Lovely naturalized in wild garden or rock garden. Charming but not as sturdy as polyanthus primrose.

Primula vialii

Grows 1-2 ft. high, 1 ft. wide. Oblong, irregularly toothed, hairy, to 8 in. long leaves. Dense, narrow, 3–5-in.-long spikes of fragrant flowers to 1/2 in. wide on erect stems. Violet blue, opening from red buds. Late spring or early summer. Not long lived but quite easy to grow from seed. Use in rock garden.

Primula vulgaris

Grows 8 in high, 1 ft. wide. Leaves much like those of polyanthus primrose. Evergreen in milder climates. Borne singly; vigorous garden strains often bear 2 or 3 per stem. Flowers white, yellow, red, blue, brown, bronze, or wine colored. Early spring. Good in woodland gardens, as edging, in containers.

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