Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
|Size||Flower diameter: 20-40 mm (2)|
Leaf length: 5-25 cm (2)
The primrose is well-known as one of the first flowers of the year, indeed the common name derives from 'prima rosa' meaning 'first flower'. It is a symbol of both the spring and of Easter (4). The crinkled green leaves form loose rosettes, and are covered on the underside with a fine layer of downy hairs (2). The flowers are pale yellow, or rarely pink, and measure 20-40 mm in diameter (2)
This species is widespread in Britain, and unlike the related cowslip (P. veris), populations of the primrose have not fluctuated much in the last century (3). Outside of Britain, it occurs in southern, western and south central Europe; other subspecies are found in southern Europe and North Africa (2).
Inhabits woodlands, hedgerows, shaded mountain-cliffs and north-facing banks. It prefers sites that are shaded from hot sun (3), and thrives best in damp conditions; it occurs in a broader range of habitats in the west, where rainfall is higher (4).
This perennial species is evergreen, but occasionally aestivates (becomes dormant in summer during hot, dry weather) (3). It typically flowers from March to June (5), although it may flower throughout the year in sheltered hedge banks in Cornwall and copses in Sussex (4). Reproduction occurs by seeds, which are dispersed by ants (3). A single primrose plant may live for 15-25 years (4).
Primroses have been picked for sale and for decorating churches for generations; this practice was criticised in the 1970s and 1980s, as wild-flower picking became unfashionable due to the concerns of conservationists (4).
Various parts of the primrose were used in herbal medicine; the root was used as a reliable and safe emetic (it induces vomiting) and as an antispasmodic, the whole plant was thought to be a sedative, the leaves were used to treat wounds and primrose tea was believed to relieve nervous disorders (6).
The primrose is included in Plantlife's Common Plant Survey; this survey aims to determine the status of 65 common plant species in Britain, in order to understand how these species are faring in the countryside and to effectively monitor changes in their populations (7).
For more information on British plants and their conservation, see Plantlife- the wild plant conservation charity:
For more on the Common Plants Survey see:
Visit the website of the Botanical Society of the British Isles at:
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- Aestivates: period of dormancy occurring in hot, dry periods, analogous to hibernation in winter.
- Perennial: plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
- Subspecies: a different race of a species, which is geographically separated from other populations of that species.
- National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
- Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. & Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.D. (2002) The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
- Press, B. & Gibbons, B (1993) Photographic field guide to wild flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd, London.
- A Modern Herbal (Feb 2003): http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/primro69.html
- Plantlife- Common Plants Survey (Feb 2003): http://www.plantlife.org.uk/html/commun_survey_intro.htm