What is Primula?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Primula is a large genus of flowering plants with an estimated 400 to 500 species. These plants are native to many regions of the northern hemisphere and they are widely cultivated ornamentally by gardeners. People who live in temperate climates with chilly winters can cultivate a variety of Primula species. Many nurseries carry seedlings, as well as seeds, for gardeners and can order special varietals by request.

Many plants in this genus include “primrose” in their common names. Other members of the genus include oxlip, cowslip, and auricula. These plants are characterized by having basal foliage, usually in a rosette, with clusters of flowers on stalks. Primula can be grown in containers, beds, woodlands, and along the edges of beds, paths, and trails. Many species are very hardy, growing in USDA zones three through nine, depending on the species and the specifics of the climate. Very hot summers can kill the plants, as can extremely cold winters.

Plants in this genus usually prefer moist, fertile soil and full to partial shade. They can be perennial in many climates and may also be treated as annuals. Given time, Primula will spread out like a groundcover. These plants are often the first to bloom in the spring, explaining the genus name, which means “first.” The highly ornamental flowers come in a range of colors including red, purple, white, yellow, and orange. Many hybrids are available for gardeners interested in plants in a range of exotic colors.


One very popular use of Primula species is in borders and edging. The low-growing plants can make an attractive border, especially as their foliage fills out and spreads. When they are not blooming, the foliage will remain intact. The flowers can be encouraged to bloom longer by trimming away dead flowers to promote the development of new stalks. Using this technique, gardeners can sometimes keep a plant blooming almost year round.

When selecting a Primula species for the garden, gardeners should be aware that the hardiness of particular species is variable. Someone at an extreme end of the hardiness range might not be able to cultivate all species. If gardeners are unsure about their gardening zone, they can consult the staff of a nursery for help. Staff members can provide plant recommendations and talk to gardeners about various cultivars available for them to grow. People interested in these flowers may also want to consider seed exchanges with other Primula enthusiasts as a way of accessing new and unusual cultivars.



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