Primrose is Considered the Flower of February.

COMMON NAME:  primrose
GENUS:  Primula
P. denticulata-lavender, purple, or white flowers; grows to 12 inches. P. japonica ‘Millar Crimson’-flowers whorled around the 24-inch stem; blooms May-June. P. polyanthus-best known; colors are red, pink, blue, gold, and white, all with small yellow eyes.
FAMILY:  Primulaceae
BLOOMS:  spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Primroses form an attractive rosette of crinkly, light green leaves. The flowers are generally brightly colored and occur in tight bundles on individual stems above the leaves.
CULTIVATION:  Needing partial shade, primroses thrive in well-drained, rich soil. They are indigenous to cool, moist meadows and woodland environments  Duplicating these conditions as closely as possible will create the best growing conditions for primroses. The soil should not be allowed to dry completely. To retain vigorously blooming plants, divide clumps every four to five years. Seeds should be sown in midsummer for bloom the following spring.

Primrose is beloved by people everywhere but is particularly cherished by the English. Buckner Hollingsworth, in his book Flower Chronicles, proclaims that “England displays a rose on the royal coat of arms, but she carries a primrose in her heart.”
Primrose is a symbol of early youth, and to walk down the primrose path meant a life of pleasure and self-indulgence. According to English folk legends, the primrose was a symbol of wantonness. The word primrose also thought to mean “most excellent.”
The name primrose is from the Latin word primus, meaning “first,” and was given to this plant because it is among the first flowers to bloom in spring.
Common names for the plant abound. In Germany it is known as Himmelschusslechen, meaning “little keys to heaven.” Other names similar to this include our Lady’s key, marriage key, the key flower, Virgins’ key, and Saint Peter’s keys. It was thought that primrose had the magical power to open treasure chests, or even better, to open rocks to reveal hidden treasure. The references to keys stem from the resemblance of the cluster of flowers to a bunch of keys. According to a German legend, Saint Peter heard a rumor that some wayward souls were trying to slip into the backdoor of heaven rather than enter through the Pearly Gates. He got so upset he dropped the keys to heaven, and where they landed on earth, they grew into primroses.
Other names for primrose refer to a mystical connection with fairies and elves and include such appellations as fairy flower, fairy cup, or fairy basins. Fairies were thought to take shelter under primrose leaves during a rainstorm.
Cowslip is a favorite English name for the primrose. Although there is some question as to how the plant came to be known by this name, most people agree that cowslip probably came from cow slop. Since the plants grew abundantly in fields, the superstition arose that they must have sprung from cow dung.

Primroses have been used since medieval times to cure a wide variety of ailments. Called herba paralysis, it was considered good for those suffering from gout. According to a fourteenth-century herbal, to “put the juice of ‘primerose’ into a man’s mouth would restore lost speech.” Mountain climbers in Switzerland carried the primrose root for its supposed power to combat vertigo. The plant has also been used to cure convulsions, hysteria, neck and muscular pains, and coughs. Water distilled from an infusion of leaves and flowers was said to be good for “pain in the head from a cold, the biting of mad dogs, and woman that beareth a child.” Eating primrose leaves in a salad was thought to be good for arthritis. A book on household remedies published in 1898 suggested that an ointment made from primrose leaves would be good on burns and ulcers.
In addition to its use as a medicine, primrose has also enjoyed quite a reputation as a beauty aid. Culpeper, a seventeenth-century English physician, wrote that “our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it {primrose} adds to the beauty, or at least restores it when it is lost.” Ointment from the common English cowslip, P. veris, was used to remove spots and wrinkles from the face. Primrose was used as a rouge. It was thought that the leaf if rubbed on the cheek of a fair-skinned woman, would cause a red glow.
Primrose can also be used in the kitchen. The leaves and flowers are eaten raw in salads, or they can be mixed with other herbs and used to stuff poultry. The leaves and flowers add flavor and color to many foods, particularly egg or custard dishes. Tea can be made from dried or fresh petals. Steep the petals in boiling water for several minutes, strain, and enjoy. Juice from the flowers can also be made into tasty country wine, jams, jellies, and preserves. Pickles and conserves were also made from the blossoms.
In the 1880s, April 19 in England was declared Primrose Day. This was in honor of Benjamin Disraeli {English prime minister from 1874 to 1880}, for the primrose was his favorite flower and this was his birthday.

Primrose is considered the flower of February.

primrose day

The Victorian Language of Flowers

The language of flowers was quite suited to Victorian England, for it allowed for communication between lovers without the knowledge of ever-present chaperones and parents. Messages that would be a social impossibility if spoken could be conveyed by sending certain types of flowers. How these flowers were sent was of great importance as well, for this was also part of the message. If the blossom was presented upright, it carried a positive thought. If the flower came upside down, it might mean quite the opposite. If the giver intended the message to refer to himself, he would incline the flower to the left. If the message referred to the recipient, it would be inclined toward the right. If flowers were used to answer a question and were handed over with the right hand it meant “yes’;  with the left hand, the answer was “no.” Other conditions of the plant were important as well. For example, if a boy sent a girl a rosebud with the leaves and thorns still on it, it meant ” I fear, but I hope.” If the rosebud was returned upside down, it meant, “you must neither fear nor hope.” If the rosebud was returned with the thorns removed, the message was “you have everything to hope for.” If the thorns were left but the leaves removed, the message was “you have everything to fear.” If the young lady kept the rosebud and placed it in her hair, it meant “caution.” If she placed it over her heart, the message was clearly “love.” The Victorians took the language of flowers a bit further and actually began attributing personalities to various flowers, as Thomas Hood exemplified:
The cowslip is a country wench,
The violet is a nun;-
But I will woo the dainty rose
The queen of everyone.

During the last part of the nineteenth century, several floral dictionaries were published. Among these was The Poetical Language of Flowers {1847}, The Language and Sentiments of Flowers {1857}, The Floral Telegraph {1874}, and Kate Greenway’s The Language of Flowers, first published in 1884 and republished in 1978. Because more than one dictionary existed, the possibility of error was great. One of these floral misinterpretations was famous by Louisa Anne Twamley in her poem “Carnations and Cavaliers.” The poem describes how a knight gave his lady a pink rose, meaning our love is perfect happiness. His lady either did not know about the language of flowers or did not care, for she sent back to him a carnation, which means refusal. The result was the tragedy: the lovers died for each other’s love. It was during the Victorian period that tussie-mussies became popular. A  tussie-mussie is a small bouquet of fresh or dried flowers, usually surrounded by lacy doilies and satin ribbons. Tussie-mussies were popular, in part, for the very practical purpose of warding off bad smells and disease. Some of the most useful flowers for this purpose included lavender, rosemary, and thyme. Tussie-mussies made marvelous gifts then, and they still do. They are easy to make, and, accompanied by a card explaining the meanings of the flowers used, make a uniquely personal present. Tussie-mussies can be made from either fresh or dried flowers. Choose a relatively large, perfect blossom for the center flower. A perfectly formed rose blossom is wonderful for this. Surround this with smaller blossoms and ferns and put the stems through a doily or starched lace. If using fresh flowers, wrap the stems with damp paper towels and then cover them with plastic wrap or foil held in place with florist tape. If using dried flowers, simply wrap the stems with florist tape. Fresh flowers that are good to use in tussie-mussies include rose, baby’s breath, cornflower, phlox, aster, and carnation. Suitable dried flowers include strawflower, statice, honesty, ageratum, and sedum.


Flowers and Their Meaning


  • alyssum, sweet: worth beyond beauty
  • amaranth, globe: immortality, unfading love
  • amaryllis: pride
  • anemone, garden: forsaken
  • aster: elegance and daintiness, the talisman of love
  • bachelor’s button: celibacy
  • begonia: beware! I am fanciful
  • bellflower {white}: gratitude
  • bluebell: constancy, delicacy, and humility
  • carnation {pink}: the floral emblem of Mother’s Day
  • carnation {purple}: antipathy and capriciousness
  • carnation {red}: admiration
  • carnation {striped}: refusal
  • carnation {white}: pure and ardent love, the good-luck gift to a woman
  • carnation {yellow}: disdain
  • Christmas rose: relieve my anxiety
  • chrysanthemum {red}: I love
  • chrysanthemum {white}: truth
  • chrysanthemum {yellow}: slighted love
  • clematis: mental beauty, ingenuity
  • cockscomb: affectation
  • columbine {purple}: resolved to win
  • columbine {red}: anxious and trembling
  • columbine: cuckoldry and deserted lover, a bad-luck gift to men
  • coreopsis: always cheerful
  • crocus: abuse not
  • crocus {spring}: youthful gladness
  • crocus, saffron: mirth
  • cyclamen: diffidence, a bad-luck gift to a woman
  • daffodil: regard
  • dahlia: instability
  • daisy: innocence, gentleness
  • daisy, garden: I share your sentiments
  • day lily: coquetry
  • fern: fascination
  • fern, maidenhair: discretion
  • flax: a domestic industry
  • forget-me-not: true love, forget me not
  • foxglove: insincerity
  • fritillary, crown: majesty, power
  • fuschia: taste, amiability
  • geranium: folly and stupidity
  • geranium, scarlet: comforting
  • geranium, wild: piety
  • gladiolus: you pierce my heart
  • heliotrope: devotion
  • hibiscus: delicate beauty
  • hollyhock: ambition
  • honesty: honesty
  • hyacinth: sport, game, play
  • impatiens: refusal and severed ties
  • iris: message, faith, wisdom, and valor
  • iris, German: flame
  • Jasmine {white}: amiability
  • jasmine {yellow}: timidity and modesty
  • larkspur: an open heart and ardent attachment
  • lily {orange}: hatred
  • lily {white}: sincerity and majesty
  • lily of the valley: purity and humility
  • marigold: disquietude and jealousy
  • morning glory: farewell and departure
  • narcissus: egotism and conceit
  • nasturtium: conquest and victory in battle
  • pansy: thoughtful recollection
  • peony: healing
  • petunia: anger and resentment
  • phlox: sweet dreams and proposal of love
  • poppy: eternal sleep and oblivion
  • primrose: early youth and young love
  • rose {pink}: our love is perfect happiness
  • rose {red}: love and desire
  • rose {white}: charm and innocence
  • rose {white and red}: unity
  • rose {yellow}: infidelity and jealousy
  • rosebud: beauty and youth
  • rose, withered: fading beauty, reproach
  • Saint John’s wort: suspicion and superstition
  • sedum: lover’s wreath
  • snapdragon: presumption and desperation
  • snowdrop: hope and consolation
  • sunflower: homage and devotion
  • sweet pea: departure and adieu
  • tiger lily: wealth and pride
  • tuberose: dangerous pleasures
  • tulip: a symbol of the perfect lover
  • verbena: may you get your wish
  • violet: modesty and simplicity
  • wallflower: friendship in adversity
  • yarrow: disputes and quarrels
  • zinnia: thoughts of absent friends

violets lrg

Botanical Names

The Victorian language of flowers is sometimes easier to understand than the botanical nomenclature that is assigned to every plant. This method of naming is based on the work done by Carolus Linnaeus {1707-1778}, who established three categories: genus, species, and varieties. Most of these names are from Latin though other languages are represented as well. Although the common names are undoubtedly more fun to use and perhaps easier to remember, the botanical names are indispensable for precise and efficient communication about plants. Many of the botanical names are based on quirks and characteristics of the plants, or on where {or by whom} they were first found growing. The following is a list of commonly used species names and their meanings.

  • africanus: of Africa
  • agrarius: of the fields
  • agustus: majestic or noble
  • albus: white
  • allianthus: with beautiful flowers
  • amoenus: pleasing
  • annuus: annual
  • aurantiacus: orange colored
  • aureus: golden
  • belladonna: beautiful lady
  • bellus: beautiful
  • biennis: biennial
  • biflorus: twinned flower
  • caeruleus: dark blue
  • campestris: of the fields
  • canadensis: of Canada
  • coccinea: scarlet
  • elegans: elegant
  • flava: yellow
  • fragilis: fragile
  • grandiflora: large-flowered
  • japonica: of Japan
  • nobilis: of fine appearance
  • officinalis: used in the apothecary shop
  • patens: spreading
  • purpurea: purple
  • repens: creeping
  • splendens: showy
  • tinctoria: used by dyers

violets in pots

Names and Meanings of Flowers

Floral communication is at least as old as the Golden Age of Greece. According to Greek and Roman myths, many gods, goddesses, and innocent nymphs were transformed into various flowers which, in turn, took on the characteristics of these personages. For example, narcissus is named for the Greek youth who spent his days looking at his own reflection, and now this plant is a symbol of egotism. Another example is of hyacinth, which, the myths tell us, grew out of the blood of Hyacinthus, a young man who loved sports and games. Hyacinth is now a symbol of sports, games, and play. The Greeks used flowers extensively in their ceremonies and in their day-to-day lives. Though they apparently conveyed messages by sending different flowers in a bouquet or garland, we can only guess which flowers had which meanings for them. Floral symbols seem to have been used by the early Chinese, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Indians. According to The Mystery and Magic of Trees and Flowers, by Lesley Gordon, the first mention of English floral symbols was during the reign of Elizabeth I {1533-1603.} William Hunnis, an English poet, wrote verses that included the phrases “gillyflowers are for gentleness,” and “marigolds is for marriage,” and “cowslips is for council.” It was the Turks in the late seventeenth century who truly developed the art of communicating with flowers. They could convey almost any sentiment using different flowers. Displeasure, love, compassion, forgiveness  friendship and countless other feelings could be sent by means of a bouquet of flowers. The language of flowers was introduced to England in the early 1700s by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the English ambassador to Turkey. On March 16, 1718, Lady Montagu wrote to a friend in England telling her that the “fair maidens of the East have lent a mute speech to flowers.” Enthralled with this custom, Lady Montagu published her Turkish Letters in 1763, explaining the floral symbolism for many different kinds of flowers. The custom caught on and appealed to romantics throughout the country. In the early 1800’s the poet Thomas Hood wrote that “sweet flowers alone can say what passion fears to reveal.”

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