Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

The damp shady conditions found in woodland are perfect for primroses where they can grow in small clusters across the woodland floor.

Common name: primrose, common primrose, English primrose

Scientific name: Primula vulgaris
Family: Primulaceae

What does primrose look like?

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

Leaves: wrinkly leaves with hairy undersides form a rosette at the plant’s base.

Not to be confused with...

  • Oxlip (Primula elatior) and cowslip (Primula veris) are both similar species however the flowers of oxlip droop to one side and those of cowslip are usually a darker orange yellow.
  • There are also several cultivated varieties of primrose some of which have escaped from gardens and are now found in the wild. Primrose also hybridises freely with other Primula species.

Where and when to find primrose

Where: common across Britain and Ireland, found in woods, at the base of hedgerows and in grasslands.

When: flowers can appear as early as late December to May.

Value to wildlife

Butterflies: flowers provide a nectar source for brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies.

Uses and folklore

  • In some regions of Britain they are used as one of many ancient woodland indicator species.
  • Despite not belonging to the rose family, the name Primrose is thought to derive from the Latin for ‘first’ (prima) ‘rose’ (rosa).
Close up of a comma butterfly on a leaf
Side shot of a brimstone butterfly on a purple flower

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