Harbinger of Spring


Primrose (Primula vulgaris) or Sabhaircín in Irish is a true harbinger of spring. Its English name derives from the Latin words prima rosa which means “first flower”.  It has pale yellow petals and wrinkled dark green leaves (1). There are lines of darker yellow towards the centre of the flower.  These are bee guidelines and help to direct insects towards the pollen and nectar area (2)

Primrose leaves and bee guide lines

It likes to grow in damp places on hedge banks, woodlands and roadsides.  As it spreads extensive patches are created. Seeds must be sown fresh and green in trays of compost in June for quick germination (3). They are not covered. 

Primrose seed

If you look closely into the flower heads of primroses, you will notice two different types of arrangements.  In some flowers the stigma is much longer than the stamens which contain the pollen. These are called pin-eyed flowers.  In some, the stamens are longer than the stigma. These are called thrum-eyed flowers. These arrangements facilitate pollination. For example, if an insect lands on a thrum-eyed flower its head will immediately be overed with pollen from the protruding anthers which are attached to long filaments.  If it then visits a pin-eyed flower it will hit off the protruding stigma first depositing lots of pollen on it.  As it forages deeper for nectar other parts of its body are covered with pollen.
Because its nectar is well down in the plant only insects with long tongues can access it. These include certain flies and butterflies, especially the Brimstone butterfly which is an early flyer.
In Irish folklore the primrose was considered like the Rowan as a protective plant against evil.  Like the Rowan it was used on May Day in houses and byres to protect animals and people.  In herbal medicine it was used for curing insomnia and assisting relaxation.