Primula – Primula obconica

The Primula originates in China, and is sometimes known as the Chinese Primrose. Another common name, the Poison Plant, refers to the fact that the leaves may irritate the skin.

The leaves are light green, oval with slighty wavy edges, and hairy. They have two types of hair: long hairs, which may lightly scratch the skin, and short hairs which contain a substance known as primin. It is primin that sometimes causes an allergic reaction on sensitive skins.

Growers have recently been able to develop forms of Primula that do not contain high levels of primin, but it is nevertheless advisable to take care when handling the leaves.

The flowers are carried in clusters at the end of the flower stalks. They usually appear in December and the plant may continue to produce blooms until well into the spring, particularly if it is kept in a cool place and the flower stalks are removed when all the flowers have faded.Primula - Primula obconica

The plant will reach a height of 25-38cm (10-15in). The flowers are about 25mm (1in) in diameter.

Colours and forms Flowers of the original species, Primula obconica, vary in colour from pink and red to blue or purple. However, there are also a number of named forms, generally with larger flowers than the species.

Named varieties include the pure white ‘Giant White’ and ‘Snowstorm’, the deep red ‘Wyaston Wonder’ and the purplish-blue ‘Caerula’. ‘Apricot Brandy’ is cream coloured at first but the flowers gradually become salmon pink and then reddish-orange.

Growing from seed

Primulas are difficult to raise indoors, but can be grown from seed in a greenhouse.

1 Sow seeds as early as possible between February and July in a tray of seed compost and sprinkle a thin layer of compost over the top. Cover with a piece of glass or polythene.

2 Keep just moist and in a shady position at 16°C (61°F) until the seeds germinate.

3 When seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into another tray. Pot on into individual 8cm (3in) pots when the plants are growing well. Repot into 13cm (15in) pots in the autumn.

Looking after your plant

Primulas are easy to grow but they like careful and regular attention. Although they are often available in shops in a mixed collection — usually grown with foliage plants — they do not grow well in such arrangements. They should be potted up individually and placed in an east- or west-facing window.

Plant Problems

Yellowing leaves are a sign of an iron deficiency, caused by too much calcium, or chalk, in the compost.

Treatment: Apply chelated iron, which is available from garden centres and nurseries.

Tiny white insects that fly up from the plant when it is touched or moved are white flies, which attack mature leaves.

Treatment: You can try to remove them by spraying the whole plant with a strong stream of water. If this fails to get rid of them, use an insecticide.

Poor leaf growth, particularly of young leaves at the base of the plant, is caused by aphids.

Treatment: Spray with a solution of soapy water.


Given adequate amounts of water this plant is easy to care for. Remove any withered leaves and faded flowers, but be careful when handling the leaves as they can cause an allergic reaction.

Potting: Repot plants in the autumn if you want them to flower for a second year. Use a soil-based compost in a 13— 15cm (5-6in) pot.

Water generously in autumn and winter, and moderately throughout the rest of the year; never allow the compost to dry out. In warm conditions, spray daily and stand the pot on moist pebbles.

Feeding: Begin to feed every 14 days in the summer when the flower buds start to develop. Use a standard liquid fertilizer.


  • Light: The plant needs good light in autumn and winter and will thrive in an east- or west-facing window. Place in partial shade during the summer so that it is protected from hot mid-day sun.
  • Temperature: Keep at 10— 13°C (50-55°F) in winter and 18-21°C (65-70°F) in summer.

When to buy

Buy in autumn or early winter from garden centres and nurseries.

Choose a plant with plenty of buds and healthy green leaves.

Primula is usually treated as an annual but with care it can be brought into flower again the following year.

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