National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future



Primula vulgaris, family Primulaceae
March to April

Native to Britain and many parts of Europe the sweetly scented primrose has many medicinal and cultural values similar to the cowslip and is considered by some to be more important medicinally.

In the language of flowers it represented both the joy of youth and young love. In some parts of the country balls of flowers were once used by girls as a predictor of marriage, during the game they sung the names of potential suitors. Like the cowslip, the primrose is associated with the story of Melicerta, whose lover pined away after her sudden death. Shakespeare also associates the plant with death referring to it as the funeral flower for youth in 'Cymbeline Act 4, scene 2'.

On a brighter note Robert Burns (1759-1796) wrote of it with a fondness several times, for example it appears in the well known song 'Sweet Afton' with the lines:

How pleasant thy banks and green vallies below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow ...

Interestingly Charles Darwin (1809-1882) discovered its complex pollination system, involving pin and thrum-eyed flowers which ensure proper cross-fertilization by long-tongued insects such as bees and moths.

Like so many of our wild flowers it is protected by law and you should not pick it under any circumstances.

Primroses. Image Credit: John K Thorne, Flickr. Public Domain
Primroses. Image credit: Giorgio_, Flicker. Public Domain