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Primula

Primrose
Primulaceae
Annuals, Flowers

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

Grows to 20 in. high and 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

Grows 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 the 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.

Primula florindae
Primula florindae

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Primula florindae

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

Primula japonica

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

Primula malacoides

Grows to 8–15 in. high and 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 1 ft. high and wide. Perennial, but best treated as an 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 group

Grows to 8–12 in. high and 9 in. wide, with fresh green, tongue-shaped leaves that resemble romaine lettuce leaves. Evergreen in milder climates; grown as annuals in hot-summer areas. The most weather-resistant primroses. Bears large, full clusters of 1–2-in.-wide blossoms (miniature types are smaller) in winter to early or midspring. Available in almost any color; many very brilliant. Choose from the many large-flowered strains, like Crescendo and Pacific Giant, or look for novelties such as the Gold Lace group, with gold-edged, yellow-centered, deep mahogany petals; ‘Penumbra’, similar, with silver-edged petals; and ‘Guinevere’, with bronzy foliage and soft pink, yellow-eyed blooms. All are excellent for massing, with bulbs, or in containers. 

Primula veris (photo courtesy of Keith Burdett/Alamy)
Primula veris (photo courtesy of Keith Burdett/Alamy)

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Primula veris

Grows to 4–10 in. high and 8 in. wide. Leaves are 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. Plant is lovely naturalized in a wild garden or rock garden. Charming but not as sturdy as polyanthus primrose.

Primula vialii

Grows to 1–2 ft. high and 1 ft. wide. Oblong, irregularly toothed, hairy leaves to 8 in. long. 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 gardens.

Primula vulgaris

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

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