This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
A general favourite, common and widespread, its universal popularity bids fair to cause its entire disappearance from some districts, thanks to hawkers. It may be an ancient plant, but only its present distribution is known, which is throughout the Northern Temperate Zone, in Europe, except the north-east, and N. Africa. In Great Britain it is found in all parts except Peebles, and it grows at a height of 1600 ft. in Yorkshire.
The Primrose - now much less widespread, as noted, than formerly, thanks also to the vandalism of the collector, the thoughtlessness of the householder - is or was a common plant which formerly adorned the glades in the woods, the meadows surrounding them, and the leafy lanes and banks of many secluded districts, especially in the south and west districts of England, where the climate is mild and moist. But in some of these spots it is now extinct.
Everyone knows the Primrose. It has no stem, except the flowering stalk or scape. The leaves are all radical leaves. The Primrose has the rosette habit. The rootstock is stout. The leaves are more or less without a stalk (as are the umbels), inversely egg-shaped, spoon-shaped, or oblong, tapering downwards, softly hairy below, wrinkled, scalloped. The young leaves are rough, netted.
The flowers are pale yellow, rarely pale lilac or purplish, drying green, in an umbel which is stalkless, so that the flower-stalks look like scapes as long as the leaves. The bracts are linear. The flowers are spreading or more or less erect. The radical flower-stalks are softly hairy, and bear one flower only. The limb of the corolla is flat, with a ring of scale-like folds at the mouth, which is narrow. The corolla lobes are rounded, notched. The calyx is softly hairy, slightly inflated, tubular, 5-angled, the teeth awl-like to lance-shaped, acute, long-pointed. The capsule is as long, or half as long, as the calyx, egg-shaped, the long, straight teeth of the fruiting calyx meeting above on prostrate flower-stalks. The capsule is 5-valved, with 10 teeth, and many-seeded.
The Primrose is about 6 in. high in flower. It blooms early in March up to May. It is perennial, and propagated by division of the roots. It is much scarcer than formerly.
The pollination of the Primrose is familiar from the researches of Knight and Darwin. The flowers secrete honey at the base of the ovary. All the species are dimorphic. In some the stigma extends to the top of the tube, and these are termed long-styled forms, when the stamens lie half-way down the tube. There are other flowers in which the stamens are inserted near the top of the tube, and where the style is half as long as the tube. The flower is thus heterostylic. The pin-eyed and thrum-eyed forms of children are the corresponding long-and short-styled forms.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree - Primrose (primula Vulgaris, Huds.)
The possession of such differences is of importance to the plant in ensuring cross-pollination. For an insect that visits a long-styled form would thus dust its proboscis with pollen from the stamens half-way down, at a point which, when it visited the short-styled form, would correspond with the position of the stigma in that form, and so lead to crossing of the two types; and in visiting a short-styled form its proboscis would be dusted farther from the mouth of the flower, and this part, when the insect next visited a long-styled form, would scarcely fail to come in contact with the stigma at the same level.
The stigma in the long-styled form is round and rough, and the pollen also is small, 1 in. in diameter, whilst in the short-styled form the stigma is smoother and depressed, and the pollen larger,
10-11 in. The flowers produce more fertile seed if the pollen of one 7000 form is placed on the stigma of the other form than if a flower is pollinated by pollen of the same form, even if from a different plant.
The styles of the same form may slightly vary in length, but as a rule the styles are all of the same length. The two forms are not found on the same plant, but there are about equal proportions of each; and long-styled flowers are pollinated with pollen from a short-styled flower, and vice versa. In such a case pollination is termed legitimate, and better and more abundant seed is formed than by self-pollination (which may occur in the absence of insects) in the short-styled form, or illegitimate crossing of 2 short-styled or 2 long-styled forms.
The capsule consists of 5 carpels and opens by 10 valves, the outer cells contracting, and when dry they are the more resisting; and the seeds, which are numerous, are shaken out when the valves open by the wind.
The Primrose is a humus-loving plant, growing in humus soil, but is also clay-loving, and needs a clay soil as well.
The leaves are attacked by Peronospora Candida and Puccinia primulce.
Two beetles, Eusphalerum primula, Otiorhynchus sulcatus, a Thy-sanopterous insect, Thrips primulce, and several moths, Nemeobius lucina, Clouded-bordered Brindle (Xylophasia rttrea), Lesser Broad-border [Tryphcena janthina), Lesser Yellow Underwing (T. orbona), Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing (T. fimbria), Silver Ground Carpet (Melanippe montanata), Polia polymita, visit it.
Primula, Matthiolus, is from the Latin primus, first, referring to the early flowering, and Primrose from the earlier name Primerole. The second name denotes its common occurrence, i.e. formerly.
The Primrose is known by several common names: Beef-and-Greens, Butter Rose, Jack-in-Box, Jack-in-the-Green, King-Charles-in-the-Oak, Lady's Frills, Milk Maid, Petty Mullein, Oxlip, Plimrose, Plimrocks, Primet, Primrose, Primorole, St. Peter's Wort, Summeren, Spink, May Spink, Spring Flower, Summerlocks.
A legend relates how Bertha enticed a child by means of primroses to the door of an enchanted castle, and the "key-flower" touching it no opened the door. The child entered a room covered with primroses where gold and jewels were deposited, and when they had been taken the primroses had to be put back or else the favoured person would be followed by a " black dog ".
The Primrose is described as a flower which "maidens as a true-love in their bosoms place ". The Primrose was used in the bridal bouquet. It was the famous "key-flower" which revealed hidden recesses in mountains where treasure was concealed. It is necessary to give a full handful of primroses and violets as a gift, or the chickens and ducklings will be affected, according to ancient superstition.
The Primrose has been used as an emetic. In Chaucer's time it was one of the components of the all-powerful " save ". With Water-Violet and the Avens it was supposed to be a remedy in liver complaints, for " schaking of hede and of handes ", and for a person "who cannot speak well ".
It has long been cultivated as a garden flower, and many varieties have been derived from it differing in colour and form.
Essential Specific Characters: 199. Primula vulgaris, Huds.- Flowering stem a scape, leaves ovate, oblong, dentate, wrinkled, flowers yellow, calyx tubular, with subulate teeth, capsule ovate, calyx exceeding it by a half, corolla limb flat.