Violets and Primroses

14 February 2023

We can all probably agree that there are not many plants that are willing to poke their heads through the snow or brave the cold during the winter.  However, if you wander through some forest areas you can see the purple heads of wild violets or primroses.  This is probably one of the reasons they are considered the designated flowers for those born in February.



Violets (from Viola of the genus Violaceae) come in over 400 species and are native to Europe and Asia but are found in moderately temperate zones in North America.  Typically they have heart-shaped leaves and asymmetrical flowers.  Generally they are violet, as their name implies, but they vary to blue, yellow, white and cream.  You may even spot some that are bicolored.

Violets are edible and contain salicylic acid, like aspirin (derived from tree bark, acetylsalicylic acid) and have been used for pain relief.

Greeks used it in love potions since they thought it contributed to fertility and love. Other attributes include modesty, faithfulness, innocence, and remembrance. Each color has its own meaning:  yellow = high value or worth; white = innocence and purity; purple = truth and loyalty; blue = faithfulness and devotion.

The Victorian era said it was a symbol of humility, fortune, and carrying them would keep evil spirits away.  At that time they were given as a representation of loyalty, thoughtfulness, and dependability.  In Renaissance and religious art they are references to modesty and humility.

Both Greeks and Romans used it as part of herbal remedies, included in wine and as a sweetener.  Persians considered it a calming agent for headaches or anger.

Because of their size and shape, violets make good border plants, or can be grown in containers as accent pieces.  They need a rich, organic soil, like that found in a forest setting.  They handle the cold pretty well but are neither drought nor heat tolerant.  They require consistent moisture (like from a soaker hose) but still need good drainage.  They thrive in full sun or partial shade.  Mulch is recommended to keep the roots cooler and retain some moisture but be cautious to avoid overwatering.

They attract many pollinators like bees and humming birds.



Not a rose but part of the Primula genus, the primrose is an early bloomer with over 500 types.  They can be white, yellow, pink, red, or violet, but they almost always have a yellow center.  The rosette grows close to the ground.

The Celts associated the primrose with fairies and larger patches were access to their mystical realm, or if you ate a primrose you would see a fairy.  They were thought to repel evil spirits and so considered to offer protection, safety, and love.  Rubbing primroses on the udder of a milk cow was thought to increase the production.

In Victorian times primroses meant young love or the inability to live without you.

Toxic to some animals, specifically dogs, cats, and horses, it is quite edible for humans.  They are used as a garnish or included in wines and syrups.

Medicinally they were used to treat headaches, cramps, spasms, rheumatism, and gout.

Unlike the violet discussed earlier, primroses prefer cool and shady areas and do well with a morning sun.  They make nice border plants or can be incorporated into a rock garden display.

If you overwinter them indoors, they can be transplanted after the last hard frost, in late April or early May.  They need a rich, organic soil with even watering.  Do not bury the crown or the plant will rot and die.  With shallow roots, they need a good mulching but, again, avoid covering the crown of the plant.

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