Primula veris is one of the most striking native primula species, best grown in groups especially if naturalised in grass. The fresh green rosettes of crinkly oval leaves are covered in velvety hairs, rolled inwards as the flower buds form in spring. Several flower stems are produced, each crowned by a one-sided cluster of long, funnel-shaped blooms, rich yellow and sweetly fragrant.
This plant is now quite rare in Great Britain and has been noticeably absent for some time, its spread declined as a result of intensive farming and even over-picking, but this little plant, is now starting to make a come-back and is beginning to reappear on some roadsides and pastures.
Commonly called Cowslips, they provide a valuable early nectar source for bees. They are effective partially shaded areas in wildflower meadows, below deciduous shrubs and trees, on the edge of woodland areas and can be naturalised in lawns.
Primula veris has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow seeds in late spring/early summer or late summer/autumn.
Primula seeds need a period of cold and damp to enable them to germinate. Sow from June onwards on a surface of seed compost, cover with grit and keep in a shaded cold-frame or cool glasshouse.
Sow seed 2.5cm (1in) apart in trays or cells containing seed compost. Sow the seeds on the surface of the compost, (Do not cover - they need light to germinate) and place in a light position at a regular temperature of around 16°C (60°F) Germination should take place between 21 and 40 days.
Primula seeds can also be sown during warmer times of the year, but it would be necessary to artificially simulate “winter” using the following method of “stratification”:
Place the seeds between two pieces of damp filter paper or folded kitchen roll then put into a polythene bag and place this into the fridge at 4°C (39°F) which is the temperature that most fridges are set at. Inspect the seeds after two weeks and remove as the seedlings appear, returning the ungerminated seeds to the fridge.
Germination can be erratic, although most should germinate in 4 to 5 weeks, it is not unknown for seeds still to be germinating up to two years after sowing. Remove the seedlings and place the pot in a shaded corner of the garden….just in case!
When seedlings have their first pair of true leaves and are large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots containing peaty compost. Grow on then gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out. Plant them in a humus-rich, moisture retentive soil and in partial shade.
The important factor is that the roots should not dry out, so incorporate plenty of organic matter when you plant, mulch well in autumn and spring and water regularly if they are in the open.
Cut back after flowering. Once established, they benefit from being lifted and divided every two years in early spring.
Wildflower meadows, Bedding schemes, Pots and containers.
Primula veris is a flowering plant in the genus Primula of the family Primulaceae. The species is native throughout most of temperate Europe and Asia, and although absent from more northerly areas including much of northwest Scotland, it reappears in northernmost Sutherland and Orkney and in Scandinavia.
The cowslip is frequently found on more open ground than the primrose, including open fields, meadows, coastal dunes and clifftops. The plant suffered a decline due to changing agricultural practices throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Britain. It may therefore be rare locally, though where found it may be abundant. Additionally the seeds are now often included in wildflower seed mixes used to landscape motorway banks and similar civil engineering earthworks where the plants may be seen in dense stands. This practice has led to a revival in its fortunes
This species frequently hybridises with other Primulas such as Primula vulgaris to form False Oxslip (Primula x polyantha) which is often confused with true Oxslip (Primula elatior), a much rarer plant.
Primula veris, the Cowslip can be easily mixed up with Primula elatior, the Oxlip, but the latter has a tighter calyx, while cowslip has a looser ‘collar’. Another differentiating factor is the form of the leaves: the widest part of cowslip’s ovate leaf blades are the base, while oxlip’s blades are widest in the middle.
Primroses and Polyanthus are a diverse group of the Primula family.
The genus name Primula and the common name Primrose is ultimately from Old French primerose from medieval Latin prima rosa, meaning 'first rose'.
The word veris is used in Latin, it is a general term meaning 'of spring'. The flowers of Primula veris bloom in early spring, and it is one of the earliest spring flowers in much of Europe. However, it is not the first primula to flower, being preceded by Primula vulgaris.
The common name Cowslip may derive from the old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures. Its first known use was before the 12th and derives from Middle English cowslyppe, from Old English cuslyppe, from cu meaning and slyppe meaning paste, and means literally cow dung.
An alternative derivation simply refers to slippery or boggy ground; again, a typical habitat for this plant.
In many languages, its colloquial name refers to a set of keys. This is probably based on the appearance of the inflorescence, which resembles a medieval bunch of keys. It is called Key Flower, the emblem of St. Peter and was also called Herb Peter. According to the classic version of the tale, Saint Peter heard a rumour that people were trying to enter heaven by the back door, instead of the front gates of which he holds the key. He was so agitated at this lack of reverence, that he dropped the golden keys to heaven, which fell to earth. Either an angel or a high-flying bird like an eagle, hawk or skylark returned them to their owner. Cowslip then grew with its golden yellow flowers where the keys fell to honour the event.
In Germany they are known as Himmelschlüsselchen, meaning the little keys of heaven. In Norse mythology the flower was dedicated to Frcya, the Key Virgin. In northern Europe the idea of dedication to the goddess was transferred with the change of religion, and it became dedicated to the Virgin Mary, so it is called Our Lady's Keys, Key of Heaven and Keyflower.
Primroses were held sacred by Druids. They were considered fairy flowers in Ireland and Wales, yet they represented wantonness in England.
Children used to suck the nectar from the flowers and the scent is a little like cow's breath (which smells sweet if you were feeling ill at the thought!).
'Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry'.
The Tempest. William Shakespeare 1564-1616
The seeds grow soon enough from seed. Never take plants or seeds of this species from the wild.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Family Primulaceae Genus Primula Species veris Common Name Cowslip Primrose
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names St. Peters Keys, Palsywort, Cowflops, Culver Keys
Our Lady's Keys, Key of Heaven and Keyflower.
Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Yellow scented flowers in April to July Foliage Mid green, oval, velvety, scalloped Height 45 to 60cm (18-24in) Spread 30-38cm (12-15in) Position Light Shade Soil Moist, fertile, humus rich soil