Meanings of Primula Plant Names


by Ralph Balcom

(This article first appeared in the summer 1972 issue of the Primroses Quarterly.  It was reprinted in the 60th anniversary issue, winter 2002, page 36.)

No doubt most of us have wondered just who is responsible for the naming of our plants and why so often they [the names] appear so long and complex and seemingly unpronounceable.


The first person who accurately describes a species and has it printed where it is readily available to the general public, especially to various botanical institutions, has the right to name it.  A Latin version sufficiently accurate to identify this plant should accompany the description and the name should be Latinized.

Most of the Primula names refer to a trait of the plant that caught the eye of the one who named it.  Knowing meanings of names of the plants we grow should be of real interest to all of us.  Very often it gives us a clue as to some outstanding characteristic.  Here below is a list of a number of our primulas, most of them species plants, and their meanings:

acaulis – without a stem

algida – cold (algid)

amethystina – amethyst color

anisodora – scent of anise

aurantiaca – orange-yellow

auricula – ear-shaped

capitata – clustered in a head

cuneifolia – wedge-shaped leaves

denticulata – toothed

elatior – tall

erosa – notched uneven leaves

farinosa – mealy

glabra – smooth, without hair

glomerata – hunched

glutinosa – sticky

grandis – great

helodoxa – “glory of the marsh”

hirsuta – hairy

hyacinthina – scent of hyacinths

imperialis – majestic

incana – grayish

incisa – edges deeply notched

involucrata – edges rolled inwards

luteola – yellowish

macrophylla – large leaves

marginata – distinct leaf margins

malacoides – poorly shaped

minima – tiny

minutissima – smallest

nivalis – snowy

nutans – nodding

obliqua – unequal leaves or sides

obtusifolia – leaves blunt

officinalis – medicinal

pedemontana – foot of mountain

pinnatifida – feather-like leaves

polyanthus – many flowers

prolifera – multiplies freely

pulverulenta – powdery

redolens – fragrant

reptans – creeping

reticulata – net-like leaves

rosea – rose-pink

rotundifolia – round leaves

rubra – red

saxatilis – growing among rocks

secundiflora – one-sided

serratifolia – saw-toothed

veris – spring -flowering

viscosa – viscid leaves

ADDITIONS, summer 2010 (Michael Plumb)

amoena – delightful

angustifolia – narrow leafed

beesiana – named for Bees nursery, England

bulleyana – named for Mr. Bulley, owner of Bees nursery and plant-hunter patron

cernua – face downwards

deorum – “of the gods”

flaccida – flabby, feeble

mollis – soft

nana – dwarf

palinuri – of the promontory in southern Italy (Palinurus was the pilot on Aeneas’ ship)

pubescens – becoming hairy

rupestris – growing on cliffs

semperflorens – constantly flowering

stricta – close, tight (constricted?)

villosa – hairy, shaggy

vulgaris – common