Snow, falling the previous night, has partly buried these Primula irregularis flowers, growing near Tharepati, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shooting stars, comprising 17 species, are a group of primroses, which were formerly placed in the genus Dodecatheon. These plants are widespread in western North America. The picture shows Padre’s shooting star (Primula clevelandii), found from central California southwards to northern Baja California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Frozen waterdrop, hanging down from a Primula sessilis flower, Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand, northern India. Snow, which fell on the plant the previous evening, partly melted, but froze again during the night. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
English primrose (Primula vulgaris), Møn, Denmark. The flower colour of this species, divided into 3 subspecies, varies from yellow to white, pink, red, or purple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primrose, cowslip, oxlip, shooting star – these names all refer to members of the genus Primula. This large genus, comprising about 520 species, is native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere and southern South America, and also to tropical mountains in Ethiopia, Indonesia and New Guinea. A core area is Central Asia, China, and the Himalaya, which is home to almost half of the species. A number of Himalayan species are described in depth on the page Plants: Himalayan flora 2.
The generic name is a diminutive of the Latin prima (’first’), referring to the early flowering of several species. Many of these plants are indeed very hardy, as seen in two of the pictures above.
The name primrose is from the Latin prima rosa, meaning ‘the first rose’, although primroses are not at all related to roses.
According to some authorities, the name cowslip is a corruption of an Old English word, cuslyppe, meaning ‘cow dung’. This probably refers to the favoured habitat of the common cowslip (P. veris), namely dry slopes, grazed by cattle. Others claim that the word is a corruption of cow’s leek, derived from the Anglo-Saxon word leac, meaning ‘plant’.
It has been said that the name oxlip, which is a corruption of ox and slip, refers to the fact that oxlip, like cowslip, often grows on cattle grazing grounds. This may be a wrong presumption, as true oxlip (P. elatior) – at least in the northern part of its distribution area – mainly grows in forests.
This small plant is readily identified by the black-tipped calyx-lobes. It grows in open areas in the Himalaya, at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,900 m, distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.
P. denticulata (below) is quite similar, but much larger, and it lacks the dark-tipped calyx-lobes.
Primula atrodentata, between Dingboche and Dusum, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula buryana var. purpurea
This variety of a Himalayan plant, having pale blue or pale lilac flowers with a broad white throat, is quite different from P. buryana proper, which has pure white flowers and a higher number of flowers in the inflorescence.
Furthermore, the white-flowered form is found in drier areas along the Tibetan border, from western to eastern Nepal, and also in Tibet, at elevations between 3,300 and 5,000 m, whereas the blue-flowered form is restricted to central Nepal, fully exposed to the monsoon rains, and mainly growing on rock-ledges at altitudes between 2,900 and 4,600 m.
I am convinced that the latter is a distinct species, but as it has not yet been described as such, I tentatively retain its status as a variety of P. buryana.
Primula buryana var. purpurea, Phedi, near Gosainkund, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula clevelandii Padre’s shooting star
This plant is native from central California southwards to northern Baja California, growing in grassy areas. Leaves are basal, to 16 cm long, the flower stems up to 30 cm tall, with nodding, magenta, deep lavender, or white flowers, to about 2.5 cm long.
The specific name honours San Diego-based lawyer, politician, and botanist Daniel Cleveland (1838-1929), who was the first to carry out a systematic study of the plants of the San Diego area. He found many species new to science.
Padre’s shooting star belongs to a group of primroses, which were formerly placed in the genus Dodecatheon, erected by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), supposedly because the inflorescence of these plants often consists of 12 flowers. The name stems from Ancient Greek dodeka (’twelve’) and theos (’god’), thus ‘twelve gods’. The Ancients applied this name to plants that they thought had acquired their medicinal properties from the twelve most prominent gods and goddesses.
This group, comprising 17 species, is widespread in North America, from north-western Mexico northwards through western United States and Canada to Alaska, with a single species extending into north-eastern Siberia. The flowers are pollinated by bees, which cling to the petals by beating their wings very fast, thus releasing the pollen.
The popular name shooting star refers to the flowers, in which the yellow stamens and the petals, which are bent backwards, converge to a common point, likened to a shooting star, in which the petals constitute the ‘tail’.
Other members of the group include Jeffrey’s shooting star (P. jeffreyi) and Henderson’s shooting star (P. hendersonii), both presented below.
Padre’s shooting star, normal-coloured form, Pinnacles National Park, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
White form, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, Santa Ana Mountains, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Intermediate, pinkish form, Point Mugu State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A tiny plant with yellow farina, a rosette of leaves, and pink, mauve, or white flowers with a yellow eye, to 1 cm across. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet, found at elevations between 4,000 and 5,200 m.
Primula concinna, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The most abundant primrose in the Himalaya, growing in forest clearings and grassy areas. It has a broad altitudinal range, found at elevations between 1,300 and 4,900 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to Myanmar.
The leaves form a rosette, and the inflorescence is a globular, many-flowered umbel. As a rule, the inflorescences of this very variable species become larger and denser with higher altitude.
P. glomerata (below) also has globular umbels, but they are much more compact.
Primula denticulata is abundant around Annapurna Base Camp, central Nepal, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula denticulata, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula elatior True oxlip
Leaves are in a rosette, wrinkled, hairy on both sides, to 20 cm long and 6 cm broad, narrowing towards the base into a winged stalk, margin down-rolled, irregularly toothed. The inflorescence is an umbel-like cluster of 10-30 flowers, often one-sided, at the end of a stalk, to 30 cm long, corolla to 1.5 cm across, pale yellow with darker yellow throat.
True oxlip is distributed in the major part of Europe, northwards to Denmark and southern Sweden, and in northern Asia, eastwards to the Altai Mountains, southwards to the Caucasus, Turkey, and northern Iran. It grows in forests and damp grasslands, and along streams.
The specific name is Latin, meaning ‘taller’ (than the common P. veris).
True oxlip, Funen, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the Alps, ssp. intricata grows in open areas at altitudes up to about 2,500 m, here observed at Hochtor, near Grossglockner, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula farinosa Birdseye primrose
This fine little plant has a very wide distribution, from northern Europe across northern Asia, with isolated populations in the mountains of southern Europe. The specific name is derived from the Latin farina (‘flour’), alluding to the fine grains on the stem.
Birdseye primrose often forms large populations, as in this picture from a littoral meadow on the island of Bornholm, Denmark. The blue flowers are common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Birdseye primrose, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its specific name implies, the leaves of this plant resemble those of certain species of geranium. The inflorescence stalks are to 30 cm tall, umbels with 3-12 flowers, rose-coloured, dark red, or purple, to 2 cm across.
It mainly grows on wet banks in forests at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,600 m, from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China.
Primula geraniifolia, Gorjegaon, near Dobhan, Tamur River, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula geraniifolia, below Langtang Lirung, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This species is easily identified by the inflorescence, which is a very dense globular head. The inflorescence stem is much longer than that of P. denticulata, which also often has globular flower-heads.
It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,700 m. It is one of the few primroses blooming in autumn.
Primula glomerata, Dukpu, near Ganja La, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. In the upper picture, a dwarf rhododendron and leaves of a cinquefoil, Potentilla peduncularis, are also seen. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula glutinosa Sticky primrose
This plant, usually below 10 cm tall, has fleshy, stiff, upright, toothed, glandular-hairy, sticky leaves, to 6 cm long and 1 cm broad. The inflorescence is a dense umbel at the end of a stalk to 9 cm long, corolla funnel-shaped, to 1.5 cm across, blue, bluish-violet, or reddish-violet with a white throat, surrounded by a bluish-purple ring, lobes deeply cleft. The sepals are covered by conspicuous dark bracts, to 1.1 cm long.
It grows in alpine grasslands and areas of snowmelt on acidic soils, at elevations between 2,000 and 3,200 m. It is distributed in the central and eastern Alps, and in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula.
It forms a confusing variety of hybrids with P. minima (below).
The specific name is from the Latin gluten (‘glue’), alluding to the sticky glands on the leaves.
Sticky primrose, Stubach Valley, Hohe Tauern, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This species has no inflorescence stalk, the flowers sprouting individually directly from the leaf rosette. The flowers are to 4 cm across, bright purplish-pink with an orange-yellow, star-shaped eye, surrounded by an irregular white border, petals usually with 3 large teeth.
It occurs from central Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet, growing at elevations between 2,700 and 4,100 m.
Primula gracilipes, between Mumbuk and Shunin Oral, Makalu-Barun National Park, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula hendersonii Henderson’s shooting star
This species, also called broad-leaved shooting star, is native from southern British Columbia and Idaho southwards to southern California. It usually grows in open woodlands, from sea level in British Columbia to an altitude of about 1,900 m in California. Leaves are basal, rounded, to 16 cm long, inflorescence stem to 30 cm long, with nodding, magenta, deep lavender, or white flowers, to 2.5 cm long.
Shooting stars in general are discussed above, see P. clevelandii.
Henderson’s shooting star, Cache Creek Wilderness Area, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula integrifolia Entire-leaved primrose
As its name implies, the leaves of this dwarf plant, rarely exceeding a height of 5 cm, are entire. They are short-stalked, ovate or lanceolate, fleshy, smooth, and sticky, to 4 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, tip rounded or pointed, margin glandular-hairy. Inflorescence only with a single or 2 flowers, stalk to 3.5 cm long, corolla to 2.5 cm across, reddish-lilac or pinkish-purple, lobes deeply cleft, throat sometimes whitish, glandular-hairy.
It is distributed from Austria westwards to the French Alps and the Pyrenees, growing on acid soils, mainly along streams and in snow-melt areas, at elevations between 1,100 and 3,100 m.
Entire-leaved primrose, Rinnbach, Pongau, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This pretty plant has no inflorescence stalk, the flowers sprouting individually directly from the leaf rosette. Flowers are to 3.2 cm across, bright pink, rarely pale violet, with an orange-yellow star-shaped eye, surrounded by a broad white border, petals very ragged-toothed.
It occurs from western Nepal eastwards to Sikkim, growing at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,700 m.
Snow, falling the previous night, has partly buried these Primula irregularis flowers, observed between Magingoth and Tharepati, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula jeffreyi Jeffrey’s shooting star
This species, previously named Dodecatheon jeffreyi, is distributed from Alaska and Montana southwards to California, growing in mountain meadows and along streams.
The Nlaka’pamux people used the flowers as amulets and love charms.
It was named in honour of Scottish botanist John Jeffrey (1826-1854), who spent four years exploring and collecting plants in Washington, Oregon, and California, sending his specimens back to Scotland. In 1854, he disappeared while travelling from San Diego across the Colorado Desert, and was never seen again.
An alternative name of this plant is Sierra shooting star, alluding to the Sierra Mountains of California.
Shooting stars in general are discussed above, see P. clevelandii.
Jeffrey’s shooting star, Yosemite National Park, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula lutea Yellow mountain cowslip
Previously, it was presumed that the mountain cowslip (P. auricula) was distributed in the major part of the central European mountains, including the Alps, the Apennines, the Juras, the Vosges, the Black Forest, the Tatras, the Carpathians, and the Balkan mountains. However, recent genetic studies have split it into two separate species, the western P. auricula, and the eastern and southern P. lutea, by some authorities named P. balbisii.
Collectively, these plants are known as bear’s ear, alluding to the shape of the leaves. They are the source of a huge number of primrose cultivars.
Yellow mountain cowslip is easily identified by the bright yellow flowers and the dull-green, broadly obovate, thin leaves, strongly serrated along the margin, and covered in glandular hairs. The leaf blade of P. auricula is usually narrower, almost lanceolate.
Yellow mountain cowslip, Trenta Valley, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia. The small plant is alpine lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A robust plant, farinose all over, except corolla and upper leaf surface. Inflorescence stems to 30 cm tall, umbels 5-25 flowers, often drooping, corolla violet, purple, or lilac, with a darker eye.
This species is distributed from Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang southwards across Tibet to northern Pakistan, and thence eastwards to Bhutan, growing at elevations between 3,300 and 5,600 m. It is very common in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal.
Primula macrophylla, Chhukung, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula matthioli ssp. brotheri
This plant was previously regarded as a separate species, called Cortusa brotheri, but has now been moved to the genus Primula and reduced to a subspecies. It is distributed from Kazakhstan and Mongolia southwards to northern Pakistan, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. In the Himalaya, it grows at elevations between 3,000 and 4,200 m. The species, in its widest sense, is distributed from northern Siberia southwards to the Himalaya, northern China, Korea, and Japan, and it also occurs in montane areas of central Europe and the Balkans.
The specific name honours Italian physician and naturalist Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli (1501-1577), personal physician of Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576). He described more than a hundred new plants, and in his work Discorsi, he made famous comments on De Materia Medica, written by Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.). In 1561, he published a work on medicinal plants, Epistolarum Medicinalium Libri Quinque.
The obsolete generic name Cortusa was applied by Mattioli in honour of Giacomo Antonio Cortusi (1513-1603), who presented the plant to him, found north of Vicenza. From 1590, he was the director of the botanical garden in Padova,
Primula matthioli ssp. brotheri, Ghumtarao, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula minima Least primrose
This mat-forming plant is easily identified by the large corolla, to 3 cm across, bright pink with a white throat, lobes deeply cleft, V-shaped. At flowering time, the leaves are usually inconspicuous, rolled-up into ‘balls’, later becoming wedge-shaped, to 3 cm long and 1 cm wide, shining, strongly toothed at the tip.
It is quite common in the eastern half of the Alps, and also in the Tatras, the Carpathians, and the northern Balkans, eastwards to Ukraine, growing in scree and snowmelts, usually on acid soils, at altitudes between 1,200 and 3,000 m.
Least primrose, near Grossglockner, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This species is native to humid forests in central Taiwan, growing at elevations between 2,500 and 3,500 m. However, it is a popular garden plant in the island, often making it difficult to determine whether a population is genuinely wild or not.
The leaves, which form a rosette, are to 20 cm long and 5 cm wide, wrinkled and sharply toothed. The inflorescence stem is to 45 cm tall, with 2-4 superimposed umbels, each with 6-10 purple flowers.
Primula miyabeana, Alishan National Forest, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This species, formerly named P. edgeworthii, has no inflorescence stalk, the flowers sprouting individually directly from the leaf rosette. Flowers are to 3 cm across, pale violet or blue, rarely pink or white, with a greenish-yellow, star-shaped eye, surrounded by a narrow, irregular, white border.
It is distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to central Nepal, growing at elevations between 2,100 and 4,100 m.
Primula nana, Deorali, near Ghorepani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaves in a rosette, to 20 cm long and 4.5 cm wide, with yellow farina beneath. Inflorescence stem to 55 cm long, umbel with 4-7 stalked, nodding flowers, to 3 cm across, white or pale yellow, sometimes flushed with pink.
This plant is distributed from central Nepal eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh and south-eastern Tibet, growing at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,400 m. It is quite prominent between Tharepati and Phedi, Langtang National Park, central Nepal.
Primula obliqua, between Gopte and Phedi, near Gosainkund, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This species has no inflorescence stalk, the flowers sprouting individually directly from the leaf rosette. Flowers to 2 cm across, pink with a broad yellow eye, surrounded by a narrow white ring.
It occurs from Uttarakhand eastwards to Sikkim, growing at altitudes between 2,100 and 3,800 m.
Primula petiolaris, above Kutumsang, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A tiny plant, easily identified by its flowers, which have a tuft of white hairs in the throat. Leaves all basal, margin deeply rounded-toothed. Inflorescence stems slender, to 9 cm long, umbels with 2-4 almost stalkless flowers, corolla to 1.2 cm across, pale blue, purple, or violet, rarely white, with a tuft of white hairs in the throat.
This species grows in open areas at altitudes between 3,600 and 5,000 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet.
Primula primulina, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula rotundifolia Round-leaved primrose
Leaves form a rosette, blade usually almost circular. Inflorescence stem to 30 cm tall, the number of flowers vary greatly in the umbels, between 2 and 16, corolla to 2 cm across, pink or pale purplish with a yellow eye, sometimes surrounded by a narrow white ring.
This plant is found at elevations between 3,500 and 5,000 m, from western Nepal eastwards to Sikkim and south-eastern Tibet.
Round-leaved primrose, Phortse Tenga, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This plant has no inflorescence stalk, the flowers sprouting individually directly from the leaf rosette. It may easily be identified by its serrated, strongly wrinkled leaves and by the rounded petals, ending abruptly in a single small tooth.
It is fairly common in forests at elevations between 2,100 and 3,700 m, from Kashmir eastwards to western Nepal.
Primula sessilis, growing on a slope, where snow is still present, Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula sessilis, Dodi Tal. This species may be identified by the petals, which have a small, sharp point. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula sikkimensis Sikkim primrose
A beautiful and stately plant, which may grow to 90 cm tall. Leaves form a rosette, blade to 30 cm long and 7 cm broad. Umbels are usually solitary, sometimes 2, one above the other, with numerous long-stalked, drooping flowers, bright yellow or pale yellow, rarely creamy-white, to 3 cm across.
It is partial to wet meadows, found at elevations between 2,900 and 4,800 m, from western Nepal eastwards to northern Myanmar and south-western China.
Large growth of Sikkim primrose along a stream, between Mundo and Kyangjin Gompa, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. The shrubs are Rosa sericea. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sikkim primrose, Shomare, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula strumosa Golden-eyed primrose
Leaves all in a basal rosette, to 20 cm long and 2.5 cm broad. Inflorescence stems to 20 cm tall, with yellow farina above, umbels many-flowered, corolla to 2.5 cm across, bright yellow with an orange-yellow eye.
It grows in forests and meadows at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,300 m, from western Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet. It is common in Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal.
This species hybridizes freely with the purple P. calderiana, sometimes resulting in yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers in a single mixed population.
These pictures are from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where golden-eyed primrose is abundant. In the bottom picture, an inflorescence has been bent to the ground by snowfall. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This stately plant is distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Sikkim, growing at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,500 m.
Leaves all in a rosette, to 30 cm long and 4 cm wide. Inflorescence stem to 40 cm tall, umbel many-flowered, often one-sided, all parts covered in yellow farina, flowers drooping, to 3 cm across, golden-yellow with an orange-yellow eye.
The specific name honours John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), who was a patron of botany.
Primula stuartii is very common in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Often a prostrate plant, stem sometimes to 13 cm tall, with a rosette of smooth, bright green leaves, to 5 cm long and 1 cm wide. Flowers solitary or in umbels with up to 10 flowers, corolla to 1 cm across, rose-coloured, pinkish-purple, or lilac, with a yellow eye, surrounded by a narrow white ring.
It is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards across southern Tibet and northern Himalaya to Bhutan, growing at elevations between 3,000 and 5,000 m.
Primula tibetica, growing in a heavily grazed meadow, near Lhatze, southern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula veris Common cowslip
A very common species in large parts of temperate regions of Europe and western Asia. Popular names include key flower, Herb Peter, and Our Lady’s keys, the first two referring to the inflorescence, which resembles a bunch of keys, the emblem of St. Peter. According to legend, St. Peter heard that some people were trying to enter heaven by the back door, instead of the front gates, which were guarded by him. Hurrying towards the back door, he dropped his keys, which took root and became cowslips. German names of this species include Echte Schlüsselblume, meaning ‘true key flower’, and Himmelsschlüssel, meaning ‘keys of heaven’.
In Norse mythology, the flower was dedicated to Freya, called the Key Virgin, a goddess associated with love, beauty, and fertility. When the heathens converted to Christianity, the plant was instead dedicated to Virgin Mary, hence the name Our Lady’s keys.
Common cowslip has been utilized medicinally for hundreds of years. This usage is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a mischievous puck, or spirit, Robin Goodfellow, meets a fairy, asking her what she is doing. She says:
And I serve the fairy queen
To dew her orbs upon the green,
The cowslips tall her pensioners be,
In their gold coats spots you see,
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their saviours,
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Modified into today’s English:
I serve the fairy queen,
Adding dew drops to her flowers in the grass.
The tall cowslips are her servants.
In their golden coats you can see spots.
Those are rubies, gifts from the fairies.
Their sweet smell comes from those freckles.
Now I must go to find some dewdrops,
And hang a pearl earring on every cowslip flower.
In these pictures, common cowslip grows on a slope beneath the ruins of Hammershus Castle, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primula vulgaris English primrose
This species, also called P. acaulis, is among the earliest flowering plants of northern Europe, in mild springs blooming as early as the beginning of March. It is native to Europe, north-western Africa, and south-western Asia, eastwards to Iran. Three subspecies are recognized. Nominate vulgaris, which is distributed in northern, western, and southern Europe, has pale yellow flowers. Subspecies balearica, which is endemic to the Balearic Islands, has white flowers. The third subspecies, sibthorpii, is found in the Balkans and south-western Asia. It has pink, red, or purple flowers.
English primrose, Møn, Denmark. Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and white anemone (Anemone nemorosa) are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
With its broadly bell-shaped flowers, this plant differs significantly from most other members of the genus. It has a rather limited distribution, found in central and eastern Nepal, and in southern Tibet, at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,900 m.
Leaf-rosette compact, blade to 5 cm long and 2.5 cm broad, densely white-hairy. Inflorescence stalks to 20 cm long, with farina and glandular hairs, umbel with 2-6 nodding, bell-shaped flowers, dark purple, bright blue, or pale blue, to 2.5 cm long and across.
The specific name was given in honour of English physician, naturalist, and explorer Alexander Frederick Richmond ‘Sandy’ Wollaston (1875-1930), who participated in a number of expeditions, to the Ruwenzori Mountains of Uganda 1905, to New Guinea 1910-11 and 1912-13, and to Mt. Everest 1921. During this expedition, he found this species, which was named after him.
Primula wollastonii, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Seven species, formerly included in Primula, have been moved to the resurrected genus Evotrochis, initially erected in 1837 by French naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz (1783-1840). When he described the genus, Rafinesque wrote: “It is astonishing how the botanists could unite this fine distinct genus with Primula.”
The inflorescences of these plants differ from those of Primula by having the flowers arranged in several umbels up the stem. (However, see Primula miyabeana above.) They occur from Turkey eastwards to the Himalaya, southwards through Arabia to Ethiopia and Somalia.
The generic name may be derived from Ancient Greek ev (‘splendid’) and trokhos (‘wheel’), in which case it probably refers to the beautiful ‘wheels’, formed by the inflorescences.
Plant softly hairy. Leaves in a basal rosette, blade to 12 cm long and 5 cm broad, ovate or elliptic, irregularly toothed, tapering to a winged leaf-stalk. Inflorescence stem to 15 cm long, glandular-hairy, with 2-6 umbels up the stem, each 3-6-flowered, bracts conspicuous, leaf-like, ovate, irregularly toothed, to 2.5 cm long. Flowers with slender stalks, unequal, the longest to 3 cm, corolla golden-yellow, to 1 cm across, petals obovate, notched.
It grows on humid rocks, from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal, at elevations between 600 and 2,600 m.
Evotrochis floribunda, growing on a humid rockface, near Sangam Chatti, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Where cowslip, English primrose, and/or true oxlip grow together, hybridization often takes place between them. In Denmark, a good place to study these hybrids is in the forest at the white cliffs on the island of Møn, where all three species occur.
Hybrids between cowslip and English primrose, Møn. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hybrids between true oxlip and English primrose, Møn. In the upper picture, yellow anemone (Anemone ranunculoides) is also seen. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primroses as offerings
In the Himalaya, offerings to stone cairns, sacred trees etc. indicate remnants of pre-Hindu and pre-Buddhist animism. In the picture below, Hindu men are placing a flower offering, consisting of yellow Primula stuartii, yellow Geum elatum, and blue and white Anemone obtusiloba, on a stone cairn – a shrine dedicated to a local Hindu goddess atop Rakhundi Peak (3622 m), Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. This goddess is probably a form of Devi, the god Shiva’s shakti (female aspect), as the trident is a symbol of Shiva.
Anemone obtusiloba and Geum elatum are described on the page Plants: Himalayan flora 3, whereas animism is dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Animism.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded August 2017)
(Latest update September 2022)