Believe it or not, there are almost 3,000 types of primrose plants out there! Some of them may be extremely similar to one another, but they are not really the same.
These cosmopolitan plants can be found all across Europe, Asia, North America, and parts of northern Africa. There, they’re usually used to difficult habitats, which include extremely low temperatures, soggy or rocky soil, and very little rain.
Despite this, primroses thrive; if you’re lucky enough, you can grow some of them in your garden.
Here are the 13 different types of primrose plants, which is just a drop in the ocean when it comes to these perennials.
1. Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris vulgaris)
Starting off with the most common of all the primroses, the common primrose is also known as the English primrose or simply primrose. If someone says that they have a primrose in the garden, chances are they’re talking about this species!
The common primrose can grow up to 12 inches in length, with leaves up to 10 inches in length. The flowers, which emerge in early spring, are only about 1 inch in diameter, rarely growing more than 1.5 inches across. They’re usually cream or yellow.
While they like the sun, they perform best in slightly shady areas, where they need well-draining soil and regular watering. In the wild, they’re most often found in forests and hedgerows.
In the USA, they can do well in hardiness zones 3 through 8. In good conditions, common primroses develop beautiful yellow and white flowers.
2. Asiatic Primrose (Primula capitata)
You may also find this plant under the name ‘round-headed Himalayan primrose’, as it stems from alpine grounds in Bhutan, Tibet, and India.
These plants are quite tall in comparison to other primroses, reaching 16 inches in height. They’re a bit more restricted than the common primrose when it comes to climate, as they only grow in hardiness zones 4-8.
Unlike the common primrose, they have purple flowers that form a flattened sphere on top of the petal.
Similar to most primroses, the Asiatic primrose is easy to care for – all they need is fertile ground and plenty of water. Since they’re used to sub-Himalayan habitats, they tolerate cold very well.
3. Cowslip Primrose (Primula veris)
Also known as simply the cowslip, this plant is very common in all of Europe and western Asia. There, they’re found in open fields and meadows.
Depending on the climate, they can be evergreen or semi-evergreen, surviving the winter with ease.
The cowslip primrose can grow up to 10 inches, and the distinctly yellow flowers, which bloom in spring, are usually less than an inch wide. You can grow them in zones 3-8.
They look stunning if grown in a garden, but cowslip primroses do very well in pots and they look beautiful on their own.
Despite being toxic (just like all primroses), the cowslip was traditionally used in Spanish and English cuisines.
4. Vial’s Primrose (Primula vialii)
This type of primrose has a unique look to it. Instead of the classic primrose look with flowers spreading broadly, the flowers look like reddened leaves towards the top of the plant, and only take the pink color when towards the bottom as they open up.
This makes the Vial’s primrose, also known as the orchid primrose, different from all other types of primrose. It comes from southern China and can only be grown in zones 5-8 in the USA.
If cared for properly, it can reach 18 inches in height (in extreme cases). It’s a bit of a late bloomer in comparison to other primroses, usually blooming mid-spring or even in early summer, but its flowers are a sight to behold.
5. Drumstick Primrose (Primula denticulata)
Common in plenty of Asian countries (China, Bhutan, India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan), the drumstick primrose also has a characteristic look to it. On the top of the stem, the flowers shape a ball, making the plant look like an oversized drumstick.
Although they’re usually purple, the flowers can also be pink and white, while the plant itself can easily reach 18 inches in height.
The leaves of this plant are serrated, something not often seen with primroses, which is how they got the name denticulata (meaning “small-toothed” in Latin).
These primroses enjoy plenty of time in the sun, but they need a lot of watering and thrive in moist soil in zones 4-8.
6. Japanese Primrose (Primula japonica)
As the name so clearly points out, this primrose originated in Japan, where it developed its distinct look.
The Japanese primrose can reach 18 inches in height, and a cluster of flowers develops on top of the stem in the spring, circling around the top of the stem. The flowers are usually red, purple, or pink, ranging from very light to very dark shades.
Unlike most primroses, the Japanese primrose easily tolerates soggy soil, and they don’t develop root rot easily. Despite this, we don’t advise soaking your soil on purpose, but it’s good to know that it’s difficult to overwater this plant.
In Japan, they were most often observed near bodies of water, such as streams, rivers, and lakes. This is why they look best next to a pond!
7. Primula bulleyana
Native to China, this type of primrose develops distinctly yellow flowers that are impossible to miss. They grow best when planted near a pond or a stream, as they prefer well-watered, moist environments.
The stems can grow to an incredible height of 24 inches, making them one of the tallest types of primrose plants in the world. On top of the long stem, the yellow flowers develop, forming a sphere when they huddle together.
There is also a subspecies of this primrose called Bee’s primrose – the only notable difference between the two is that the subspecies develops purple flowers.
Both types of primroses can be grown in zones 3-8, where they can take up to 5 years to reach their full height.
8. Poet’s Shooting Star (Primula poetica)
Native to the northwestern United States, the poet’s shooting star is another unique type of primrose plant. The thin stems usually grow up to 8 inches in height, but they can sometimes reach 12 inches.
On top of them, purple flowers bloom, hanging down. The flowers are pointy at the bottom and the petals widen towards the top, making them look like a shooting star, which is the source of their name.
In the wild, they can be found in moist grasslands and in oak forests.
These primrose plants are self-seeding, which means that you don’t need to plant a lot of them in your garden. They will naturally fill up their immediate areas.
9. White Shooting Star (Primula latiloba)
Another type of shooting star, this plant can also be found in the northwestern United States, as well as southwestern Canada. Just like the poet’s shooting star, this plant was named after its distinct flowers, which are white.
This plant is much taller than the poet’s shooting star, sometimes reaching 20 inches in height. Its leaves are long, up to 4 inches, and their edges are serrated as a form of self-defense.
Since they do best in cooler areas, they can tolerate full sun, but they normally need partial shade if they’re grown in moderately warm climates. Zones 3-8 are best for all shooting star types of primrose plants.
10. Sticky Primrose (Primula glutinosa)
This type of primrose has tiny hairs all over its body, causing it to stick to clothes and hair. They’re small plants, growing up to 4 inches in height, with light-purple flowers blooming in early summer (making them late bloomers).
The range of their natural habitat includes the mountainous regions of Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia. They’re a bit difficult to grow because they need soil with high acidity to reach their full potential.
They also like damp soil and low temperatures – these three boxes are very difficult for most gardeners to check, which is why they’re so rare.
Because of their very specific conditions, they’re rare in the wild, so growing a patch in a home garden is a great success.
11. Fairy Primrose (Primula malacoides)
Also known as baby primrose, this type of primrose is native to southern China, India, Myanmar, and the Himalayas. There, it can grow up to 18 inches in height and develop purple, white, red, and pink.
Although they do very well outside, fairy primroses are well known for being exceptional indoor types of primrose plants. If you’re interested in getting a primrose to keep inside – this is the type you’re looking for.
They’re no more difficult to grow than other primroses, but they’re known to attract pests, especially aphids, which is something to keep an eye on.
12. Bird’s-eye Primrose (Primula farinosa)
This cryptic type of primrose is native to northern parts of the UK, and alpine regions in Central Europe.
It is not to be confused with the Mistassini primrose, also known as bird’s-eye primrose, as that type of primrose only grows in Canada and the northeastern parts of the USA.
The European bird’s-eye primrose can grow up to about 10 inches in height and form a small cluster of pink flowers on top of the stem.
They thrive in grasslands with plenty of limestone substrate. Unfortunately, their natural habitat is being destroyed, so the sight of this type of primrose plant is becoming more and more rare across Europe.
Bird’s-eye primroses are typically solitary plants and you’re unlikely to find many of them clustered together.
13. Parry’s Primrose (Primula parryji)
Finally, we have Parry’s primrose, named after the botanist Charles Christopher Parry, who discovered this species. These primroses are native to subalpine parts of the Rocky Mountains.
Their natural range stretches from Montana to Arizona. There, they’re known for developing a smell-based defensive system, as they smell terrible (even after drying them).
This type of primrose can grow up to 20 inches, with purple flowers spreading across the entire stem. They’re the most common primroses in western North America.