Primula elatior ssp. pallasii

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Robert Pavlis

Primula elatior ssp pallasii, by Robert Pavlis

Primulas are great garden plants for part shade and Primula elatior ssp pallasii is one of the best. I normally do not care for pale colored flowers, but the light yellow of this one, combined with its early flowering, makes it stand out in the garden. It is a real gem that seems easy to grow.

Primula elatior ssp pallasii, by Robert Pavlis
Primula elatior ssp pallasii, by Robert Pavlis

Primula elatior is also known as the oxlip primula. It is similar to the more popular Primula veris, the cowslip, but the oxlip has flowers that all face in one direction. Primula veris tends to have bright yellow or red flowers. If you find a plant that has pale yellow flowers that face in all directions it may be the natural hybrid between these two, commonly called the false oxlip.

There are a number of subspecies of Primula elatior, and P. e. ssp pallasii can be identified by it’s glabrous (hairless) leaves.

Most primulas are easily grown from seed, even though the seed is very small. I usually add the seed on top of the seedling mix and cover with a very thin layer of chick grit. Germination rates are usually high.

Plants form offsets and slowly grow into a larger clump. At this point they can be dug up, divided and each piece can be planted separately. This can be done in very early spring or after flowering. Keep them well watered until they have established themselves. They seem to do better with regular division.

Primula elatior ssp pallasii, by Robert Pavlis
Primula elatior ssp pallasii, by Robert Pavlis

The one pictured here was planted under a sugar maple in fairly heavy shade and it did well there. The tree has now been removed and they are in full sun and quite dry. They are still doing well, but tend to grow smaller leaves and go underground sooner. In a wetter, part shade location they would do better and stay green all summer long.

Primula elatior ssp pallasii

(PRIM-yew-luh  ee-LAY-tee-or)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 20cm (8in)

Bloom Time: early spring

Natural Range: Russia

Habitat: damp woodland conditions and woodland edges

Synonyms: Primula pallasii

Cultivation of Primula elatior ssp pallasii

Light: full sun to part shade

Soil: variable, prefers humus-rich soil

Water: prefers damp woodland conditions, but will grow drier

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 – 9

Propagation: seed, division

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

2 thoughts on “Primula elatior ssp. pallasii”

  1. I love primulas and have a number of different varieties. Where can you get seeds or plants of the Oxlip primula? Also do you know where you can get some of the succulent leaved varieties of primula, Primula aucalis? My favorite is Primula vialli, the orchid primrose.

    • a good place to get seed is from the Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society – they have a seed exchange every year.

      Some nurseries do sell P. aucalis, and the seed exchange usually has some seed. P. viali may not be hardy in my zone 5 – I have had problems getting it to live more than a year or two.


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