Primrose Primula vulgaris

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See March, April, May
Colour Yellow
Habitat Woodland, Grassland

One of surest signs that spring is on the way. Primrose's pale yellow flowers can be a common sight across the UK.

How to spot it

Pale yellow, green-veined, flowers, 3cm across, borne singly on stalks. Rosette of wrinkled leaves tapering gradually to stalk, each up to 15cm long.

Where it grows

Woodland clearings, hedgebanks, waysides, railway banks and open grassland preferring damp, clayey soils.

Best time to see

Springtime.

Cultural info

  • It is the County Flower of Devon.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises early youth, fears, a sense of being forsaken, inconstancy, innocence and lovers’ doubts.

How is it doing?

Primrose is a native plant in Britain, and its distribution remains stable. Its decline in areas of East Anglia - following a series of hot, dry summers from 1970 onwards - hints at a possible threat posed by climate change. The main threat is the loss of habitat. Inappropriate management of woodland and waysides can all contribute to a local decline.

3 things you may not know

  • The name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning 'first rose' of the year, despite not being a member of the rose family. In different counties of England it is also referred to as butter rose, early rose, Easter rose, golden rose and lent rose.
  • April 19th is 'Primrose day'. This date is the anniversary of the death of the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the primrose was his favourite flower. Queen Victoria supposedly sent him bunches regularly and to this day primroses are laid at his statue by Westminster Abbey on this date every year.
  • A primrose flower will be red if you plant it upside-down according to one old superstition (we wouldn't recommend it...).
  • In large populations there is a variation in the colour, texture and size of primrose flowers. Native species can produce flowers in shades ranging from pale cream to deep yellow. There is even a variety with white flowers round a pale yellow eye, and also a rhubarb-and-custard, or pink, form. Bizarre forms include an umbellate form in which flowers form a spray on top of a longer stalk similar to a cowslip, and doubles.
  • Other common names for the Primrose include Darling of April and Golden stars. It is also called Spinkie in the vernacular.
  • They are a universal token of spring and especially Easter and bunches were picked for parents and decoration for churches. Today they are still occasionally used to make 'Pasche' egg by wrapping the flowers, onion peelings and ivy leaves around an egg with newspaper and string before hard-boiling it.

And in the wood, where often you and I,
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie...

William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream