Primrose was first formally recorded by William Turner in 15382. in his book of wild flowers, and has featured in literature from Shakespeare’s time. Local names3. include butter rose in Devon, first rose in Caithness and Somerset and May-flooer in Shetland. Primrose was originally grown as a medicinal and culinary plant in monasteries and early gardens. It was used with other flowers in salads, and primrose tea has been used a sedative.4 In the Highlands crofters used primrose pounded with butter to make a healing ointment.5.
A beautiful addition to any garden, primroses are best grown in a group in the front of a border, or in shady areas along hedge or fence margins, or around the base of trees with other spring flowers such as sweet violet Viola odorata. They can also be grown successfully in moist, peat-free compost, in window boxes and other containers. Primrose is easily propagated by seed in spring, for planting out In November or the following Spring. Alternatively, buy as nursery-grown plugs or potted plants. It’s advisable not to plant cultivated polyanthus close by as they are very likely to hybridise.
Primrose is a valuable nectar plant for early flying pollinating insects such as bumblebees including Bombus terrestris, the hairy-footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes, the bee-fly Bombylius major and early butterflies such as the brimstone butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni. It is the food plant of many moth larvae including the broad-bordered yellow underwing Noctua fimbriata, silver ground carpet moth Xanthorhoe montanata , the uncertain Hoplodrina octogenaria and Hebrew character Orthosia gothica.6.
1.Browne, J. 2003. Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Pimlico. London.
For further information on Darwin’s observations on cross-fertilisation see: Thompson, K. 2018. – Darwin’s Botany Today. Profile Books. London.
2.Pearman, D. 2017. The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain and Ireland, A compilation of the first records for 1670 species and aggregates, covering Great Britain, Ireland, The Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland.p 325.
3.Vickery, R. 2019. Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A to Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London.p 562.
4.Hooper, M. 1984. Herbs and Medicinal Plants. Kingfisher Books. London. p 94
5.Stewart, K. 1980. Crofts and crofting. Reprint 1996. Mercat Press. Edinburgh.
6.See the Biological Record Centre database
Page written by Caroline Ware. Compiled by Steve Head