A rare primula

primula pal

Last year I posted about polyanthus and primulas and the posts are there* if you need to check up on them. I will post again about my ‘Barnhaven’ polys in a few weeks when a few more are open but for today, and another tomorrow, a post about a different primula.

This one is more like an auricula (Primula auricula) than a primrose because it has shrubby stems and thick, leathery leaves. The other feature is that part of the flowers and the top of the (20cm) flower stems is covered in farina, that strange waxy powder that gives auriculas in particular, their distinctive look. But although they are fairly common garden plants, and have a legion of fans who collect and nuture them, Primula palinuri is a real rarity, in gardens and in the wild. Primula auricula is also a mountain plant, growing high in the Alps and mountains of Europe along with other spring beauties such as P. allionii from Southern France and N. Italy. But P. palinuri is restricted to just a few places in southern Italy, on the coast between Cape Palinuro and Cape Scalea, where it grows at low altitudes on cliff faces. To cope with the higher temperatures in this environment, it grows only on shady, limestone cliffs facing north or north west. However, it only thrives and flowers when not shaded by taller plants. Because of habitat loss this plant is known in the wild from only a handful of places and listed as Critically Endangered. Fortunately it only grows in vertical fissures in rocks so is relatively safe from grazing animals and plant collectors. It is thought that there are six large populations and about 18,000 individual plants in the wild but it is established in cultivation.

It is thought to be a primitive primula that managed to survive climatic changes during ice ages and maybe it is the origin of other primulas such as P. auricula. Like many other primulas, including primroses (see the post link below) the plants are heterostylous, meaning that plants have styles and anthers of different lengths to ensure cross pollination.

primula pal2

This not a plant I have grown but that I saw at Dublin Botanics in the Alpine house last weekend. It looks a robust, leafy plant and seems tough though I would doubt that it is fully hardy, considering its native habitat. Growing it outside would also have the problem that rain might wash off the farina. It should be an interesting plant for the cool greenhouse though. In my haste I forgot to stick my nose in the flowers but they are reportedly fragrant.



One Comment on “A rare primula”

  1. sueturner31
    March 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    It certainly looks very different…I like this a lot…. knowing my addiction to auricula…..

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