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Quick facts

Common names: primrose, common primrose, English primrose

Scientific name: Primula vulgaris

Family: Primulaceae

Origin: native

Flowering season: December to May

Habitat: woodland clearings and grassland

What do primroses look like?

Primrose is a small, perennial woodland plant that grows no more than 10cm high and can flower from December through to May.

Leaves: wrinkly with hairy undersides, forming a rosette at the plant’s base.

Flowers: pale to deep yellow with darker yellow-orange centres. The single flowers have five notched petals which form on the ends of upright woolly stalks.

Fruit/seeds: the unripe seed pod, which resembles a ball inside the calyx (the green leaf-like structures that are at the base of the petals), is pale green with soft, green seeds. When ripe it is whitish and its seeds are brown or black and hard.

Not to be confused with: oxlip (Primula elatior) and cowslip (Primula veris) which are both similar species. However, the flowers of oxlip droop to one side in the same direction. Cowslip flowers form in clusters and are usually bell-shaped and a darker orange-yellow. Primrose and cowslip also hybridise to make Primula veris x vulgaris which grows taller than primrose. There are also several cultivated varieties of primrose, some of which have escaped from gardens, which are now found in the wild.

primrose single flower close-yp

Credit: Robert Read / WTML

Where to find primroses

Primroses are common and widespread across Britain and Ireland. They are found in woods, at the base of hedgerows and in grasslands. They can bloom as early as late December and flower until May.

brimstone butterfly on primrose

Credit: Stephan Morris Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Value to wildlife

The flowers provide a nectar source for pollinators like brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies.

common primrose

Credit: Philippe Clement / naturepl.com

Mythology and symbolism

Primroses represent eternal love. In Irish folklore, primroses in the doorway protected the home from fairies.

Primrose leaves and flowers

Trees woods and wildlife

A sign of ancient woodland

Primrose is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat.

Learn more about ancient woodland
Did you know?

Queen Victoria used to send primroses to prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as they were his favourite flowers.