Saturday, 19 April 2008

two become one


I'm usually sniffy about hybrids. Today I found two patches of primroses that were not the traditional buttermilk yellow but red. I dug them out, for all their charm, and composted them. I am passionate about our native plants and animals and think that hybrids between our native plants and cultivars weaken the native strain.

But, of course, there have to be exceptions and here's one.

Our native primrose (primula vulgaris) flowers abundantly for six months. It has elongated leaves and forms mounds with the yellow flowers studding the hummock of leaves. The primrose is the quintessential flower of the woodland floor and tolerates a range of soils.
The cowslip (primula veris) however, has rounded leaves and sends its flowers up in spikes. It is typically abundant in meadows and likes heavier soils.

Both provide a valuable nectar source for early insects.

The third, and much rarer, member of the family is the oxlip (primula elatior). The oxlip is considered a separate species but the confusion comes when primroses and cowslips hybridise. They produce a plant with the form and flowering habit of the cowslip that has flowers of the primrose. These hybids are called 'false oxlips' but I think it would be a brave man who said he could tell a true oxlip from a false one. For me there is nothing false about this little gem.

So, I make this exception for my oxlips and their swaying flower heads will be protected.


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