Primula veris

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Robert Pavlis

Primula veris, photo by Robert Pavlis

Primula veris is best known as the common cowslip. With a name like that you would think everyone grew it, but it’s not common in gardens or nurseries which is really odd since this is a very easy to grow primula that sparkles every spring.


Primula veris, good sized clump ready for devision :photo by Robert Pavlis
Primula veris, good sized clump ready for division :photo by Robert Pavlis

The cowslip starts to grow very early in spring and flowers mid to late spring. If it gets enough water it will stay green all summer, but if things get too dry it just goes underground in late summer until next year. It is probably the easiest primula to grow and seems very long lived. It quickly forms a large clump that can be divided every three to four years. You will also get some limited seeding.

The only negative about this plant is that the flowers are funnel-shaped and don’t open as much as some other primulas. To compensate, it produces a lot of flowers on each plant. The natural color for Primula veris is a lemon yellow, but cultivars exist in other colors. The cultivar Sunset Shades comes in yellow, russet, red and even some bi-colors.

Primula veris :photo by Robert Pavlis
Primula veris :photo by Robert Pavlis

The common cowslip is also known as cowslip primrose, St. Peter’s keys, palsywort, tisty-tosty, cowflops and culver keys. The term cowslip probably originated from the fact they grow very well in cow pastures. Veris means spring.

Plant Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

This plant is easily confused with Primula elatior , also known as the oxlip primula. The cowslip has flowers that face in several direction while the oxlip has flowers that all face in one direction. The leaves on the two plants are also different. The cowslip is ovate with the widest part at the base. The oxlip has the widest part in the middle of the leaf.

Primula veris, 'Sunset Shades' :photo by Robert Pavlis
Primula veris, ‘Sunset Shades’ :photo by Robert Pavlis

Primula veris

 (PRIM-yew-luh VER-iss)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 30 cm (12 in)

Bloom Time: spring

Natural Range: Europe and western Asia, naturalized in eastern North America

Habitat: well-drained rich grasslands, woodland edges and calcareous cliffs

Synonyms:  Primula officinalis

Cultivation of Primula veris

Light: part shade to heavy shade

Soil: humus rich, well drained

Water: average to moist

USDA Hardiness Zone: (3?) 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!

1 thought on “Primula veris”

  1. Oh yes!!! I have plenty of the red ones shown in your photo which I have tried to spread all over this county. They are from my mother and I saw them named as “Helen Eastman”.
    Both the red and yellow, all spread beautifully and are easily propagated from division any time of the year.


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