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9 Mar 2020

Blooming gorgeous: primrose

Written by Bex Outram, Assistant Ranger, St Abb’s Head NNR
A close-up of pale yellow primroses growing on a woodland floor.
Primroses in the woodland around the Mire Loch
Primroses add a splash of colour to the woodland around the Mire Loch and the sea braes after a dull winter.

The pale yellow flowers of the primrose (Primula vulgaris) sit on stalks 15cm high, flowering from March through to May, and they certainly do herald the start of spring. Primroses are found throughout the UK, favouring damp areas where the soil is wet and clayey. In the west, where the rainfall is higher, primroses flourish in woodlands, scrubby areas, hedge banks and often on railway banks. In the east, where it is dryer, the primrose is mainly found in woodland and damp shady areas.

Some white-flowered primroses can be found in the UK but these are escaped specimens of the Mediterranean subspecies. There is also a pink-purple version of the primrose found on hedge banks near gardens, and their origin is questionable. Here at St Abb’s Head the yellow primrose can be found in the woodland along the Mire Loch and on the grassy sea braes, especially at Starney Bay.

Both flowers and leaves are edible, with the flavour ranging between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves can be cooked in soup but preferably with other plants because they’re sometimes a little strong. The leaves can also be used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine. In the past, the whole plant (but especially the root) was considered to have analgesic, anti-spasmodic, diuretic and expectorant properties. Primroses contain small amounts of saponins (which affect the immune system) and were given for colds. Please remember, though, that it’s illegal to gather plants on the reserve.

Lots of pockets of primroses grow on a wild grassy area.
Carpets of primroses on a sea brae near Petticowick

This little flower even has its own special day: 19 April, also known as Primrose Day. This is the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Disraeli (who twice served as British prime minister), and the primrose was his favourite flower. Queen Victoria sent a wreath of primroses for his funeral, and to this day primroses are laid by his statue near Westminster Abbey on this date.

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