Primula vulgaris (primrose, syn. P. acaulis (L.) Hill) is a species of flowering plant in the family Primulaceae, native to western and southern Europe (from the Faroe Islands and Norway south to Portugal, and east to Germany, Ukraine, the Crimea, and the Balkans), northwest Africa (Algeria), and southwest Asia (Turkey east to Iran). The common name is primrose, or occasionally common primrose or English primrose to distinguish it from other Primula species also called primroses.
The leaves are 5–25cm long and 2–6 cm broad, often heavily wrinkled, with an irregularly crenate to dentate margin, and a usually short leaf stem. The delicately scented flowers are 2–4 cm in diameter, borne singly on short slender stems.
The flowers are typically pale yellow, though white or pink forms are often seen in nature. The flowers are actinomorphic with a superior ovary which later forms a capsule opening by valves to release the small black seeds. The flowers are hermaphrodite but heterostylous; individual plants bear either pin flowers (longuistylous flower: with the capita of the style prominent) or thrum flowers (brevistylous flower: with the stamens prominent). Fertilisation can only take place between pin and thrum flowers. Pin-to-pin and thrum-to-thrum pollination is ineffective.
The primrose is one of the earliest spring flowers in much of Europe. "Primrose" is ultimately from Old French primerose or medieval Latin prima rosa, meaning "first rose", though it is not closely related to the rose family Rosaceae.
Habitat and conservation
In appropriate conditions, the primrose can cover the ground in open woods and shaded hedgerows. In more populated areas it has sometimes suffered from over-collection and theft so that few natural displays of primroses in abundance can now be found. However it is common on motorway verges and railway embankments where human intervention is restricted. To prevent excessive damage to the species, picking of primroses or the removal of primrose plants from the wild is illegal in many countries, e.g. the UK (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 13, part 1b).
- Primula vulgaris subspecies vulgaris. Western and southern Europe. As described above; flowers pale yellow.
- Primula vulgaris subsp. balearica (Willk.) W.W.Sm. & Forrest. Balearic Islands (endemic). Flowers white. Leaf stem longer than leaf blade.
- Primula vulgaris subsp. sibthorpii (Hoffmanns.) W.W.Sm. & Forrest. Balkans, southwest Asia. Flowers pink to red or purple.
The primrose is distinguished from other species of Primula by its pale yellow (in the nominate subspecies) flowers produced singly on long flower stalks which are covered in rather shaggy hairs. The flowers open flat rather than concave as in the case of Primula veris, the Cowslip.
A pink form is widely seen, growing amongst the much more common yellow forms; this may be a genetic variant rather than a garden escape. Occasional red forms are more likely to be naturalised from garden varieties.
The wild primrose is a staple of cottage garden plantings, and is widely available as seeds or young plants. It grows best in moist but well-drained soil in light shade. It is increased by seed or division.
Primrose breeding of named coloured varieties became popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden planting, often derived from subsp. sibthorpii or hybrids between the subspecies; these and other garden hybrids are available in a wide range of colours and with an extended flowering season.
The term Polyanthus, or P. polyantha, refers to various tall-stemmed and multi-coloured strains of P. vulgaris x P. veris hybrids. Though perennial, they may be short-lived and are typically grown from seed or from young plants as biennials.
Both flowers and leaves are edible, the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine.
- Flora Europaea: Primula vulgaris
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Primula vulgaris
- Natural History Museum: Primula vulgaris
- Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2
- Huxley, A, ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. ISBN 0-333-47494-5
- New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993
- Mabey, Richard: Flora britannica (Chatto & Windus, 1996). ISBN 1856193772
- Clapham, A., Tutin, T., & Warburg, E. (1962). Flora of the Brish Isles.
- "Primrose-tinted spectacles". Irish TImes.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Primula vulgaris". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Primula vulgaris subsp. sibthorpii". Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Plantlife website County Flowers page
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