Plant of the Month for April, 2017

primula elatior ssp pallasii header
Primula elatior ssp. pallasii

 (PRIM-yew-luh  ee-LAY-tee-or)

General Information:

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 coloured 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:photo by Robert Pavlis

Primula elatior ssp pallasii:photo 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:photo by Robert Pavlis

Primula elatior ssp pallasii:photo 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.  

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 20cm (8in)

Bloom Time: early spring

Natural Range: Russia

Habitat: damp woodland conditions and woodland edges

Synonyms:  Primula pallasii


Light: full sun to part shade

Soil: variable, prefers humusy soil

Water: prefers damp woodland conditions, but will grow drier

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 - 9

Propagation: seed, division

Seedex availability (ORG&HPS annual Seed Exchange): occasionally


Sow @ 20°C. Seed germinates within 3 months.
Robert Pavlis