The generic name Primula translates from the latin as 'little first one of spring'; the native wild primrose will often show its head in sheltered places before old year is out and it's not unusual to see the pretty flowers appear through melting snows.
Generally, however, they flower from late February to May and are considered one of the most welcome signs of a returning Spring. They thrive in sun or partial shade, prefer a sheltered position with moist soil and can be found decorating roadside verges, grassy banks, hedgerows, streamsides and woodlands.
A native perennial,l common throughout Ireland, the green rosette of well crinkled leaves are thick and hardy and holds clusters of small, dainty flowers. Each flower is held on its own leafless stalk from the basal rosette and vary between cream and pale yellow with a deeper yellow eye, mostly single but occasionally semi-double or double; this is the ultimate cottage garden plant!
Each plant contains two types of flower, one is called pin-eyed (female) and the other is thrum-eyed (male). This ensures that cross-fertilisation is far more likely to take place and the seeds of new generations will be formed. On warm, still days, one conspicuous pollinator is the bee fly - Bombylius major. A stumpy, furry fly with long, spindly legs that can be seen hovering over primroses rather like a hummingbird, its long, rigid proboscis sucking nectar from the flowers.
The primrose may be a small and dainty flower but in days gone by it was considered a symbol of safety and protection and ancient Celtic wisdom associates large patches of primroses with a gateway or portal to the faerie realm. In Ireland the primrose was linked to May Eve when it was widely used for protection against faeries, primroses placed on a doorstep were said to encourage faeries to bless the house and all who lived there instead, however, it was considered bad luck to bring primroses indoors. he protection of primroses in folklore seems to also extend to those who keep chickens. This association with chickens appears to come from the similarity of the flower colour and young chicks. which appear at the same time of year. Good health to your family fowl can be assured by trying posies of primroses close to the hen-house.
Like many plants, primroses depend entirely on insects. They need to be pollinated before they can form seeds but the flowers also provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators as their reward for pollinating the flowers. Primroses are used as a caterpillar food-plant by several species of moth including the Silver-ground Carpet moth and Green Arches moth. Once the sticky seed is formed, the food inside attracts ants who help to spread the seed to other areas by carrying them away from the flower.
The leaves and flowers are edible, and primroses have a very long history of medicinal use. In herbal medicine it is used, even today, as a tonic for the respiratory & nervous system and for its known anti-inflammatory and febrifuge (fever reduction) effects.
The species name, vulgaris, means common and in this context meaning everywhere, however, primroses are nowhere near as common as they once were, especially around larger towns and cities, where they have suffered from degraded habitat, habitat loss and over-picking.
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