Primroses – I have covered this in previous years but then, I know people love them, and forget some details as well as there being some new people to the blog. Primroses are really making a come-back along lanes and roads, probably thanks to less road-verge cutting as well as my (grandma among many others no longer digging up plants and putting them in their gardens!) Primroses have evolved a clever way to encourage cross-pollination rather than self-pollination, which makes them more resilient. If you look at the centre of the flowers, some are ‘pin-eyed’ with the female part or stigma prominent and the other, the ‘thrum-eyed’ have the male pollen-bearing anthers prominent (see photos). But further down the flower-tube hides the opposite part of the reproductive organs. This arrangement means that, when an insect visits each flower, they don’t pollinate that flower but one of the opposite arrangement. You can carefully pull the petals of a flower to reveal either the anthers or stigma below whichever is uppermost. Primroses are brilliant for early butterflies, bees and smaller insects. Really worth having in your garden (easy to buy native
Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Primrose
Thrum-eyed native Primrose
plants online)- you can split them into several plants, every couple of years and pass on to others, Conditions: Cooler but mainly dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 8 Min 4 C.
Happy Primrose Day. Primroses are such wonderful harbingers of spring that they deserve their own day of recognition and, flowering so early, they benefit many insects. Only the long-tongued (proboscis) ones like Bee Fly, Brimstone Butterfly, Peacock, and Buff-tailed Bumblebee (see photo’s) can take advantage as the nectar is at the bottom of a long tube (corolla). Look closely and you can see that Primroses are either Pin-eyed (having a single pin-head female style visible at the top of the corolla/ tube,) or Thrum-eyed (having a ring of pollen-laden anthers at the top of the tube). If you carefully opened one up you would see that half-way down the tube sits the opposite reproductive part. This is called being heterostylous, and avoids self-pollination and ensures cross-pollination. An insect picking pollen up from the Thrum-eyed would only pollinate a Pin-eyed and vice versa because of where the pollen is situated. Charles Darwin was fascinated by the primula family for this reason. He wrote in his autobiography “I do not think that anything has given me so much satisfaction as making out the meaning of the structure of
Primrose with Bee Fly feeding
Primrose, with Brimstone Butterfly feeding
Primrose, with Bufftailed Bumblebee feeding
heterostylous flowers”. You don’t need to know or care about this to enjoy the Primrose. As children, we would pick bunch after bunch for our relatives who had moved away from the country to town, posting them in damp paper in a shoe-box! It was interesting to hear the nature-writer Richard Maybe saying this morning that Primroses have recovered so well and are now so prolific in many areas that he thought children should once again be allowed the joy that we experienced, of picking small bunches. Conditions: Unseasonably warm with blue skies. Temperature: Max 21 Min 7 C.
I can’t leave March without featuring the wonderful harbinger of spring, the Primrose, several plants of which I have recently transplanted from my garden to mum’s grave, as it was her favourite too. Shakespeare refers to the Primrose in Macbeth and here, in Hamlet with Ophelia responds pointedly to her brother Laertes lectures thus: “Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, Whiles, liked a puffed up libertine, Himself the primrose path to dalliance treads, And recks not his own rede”. In those days the ‘primrose path’ was seen as a path to destruction. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 9 Min 4.
Primroses are out in the garden, woods and lanes, a great, early source of nectar and pollen for over-wintering Butterflies (see photo). Buy one of these wonderful native plants, (or grow from seed), and split into many new plants every couple of years. In order to ensure cross-pollination, some Primroses have the female stigma at the mouth of the tube (Pin-eyed) and some have the male, pollen-covered anthers (‘Thrum-eyed’) at the top (see photos). Whichever is visible, further down the tube the opposite grows. So, a Butterfly or Bumblebee gathering pollen from visiting a Pin-eyed will automatically fertilise a Thrum-eyed, and vice versa. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 8- Min 2C.
Primrose and Peacock