Wednesday 10 April 2019

Twixt Prims and Peggles.....

As roadside verges across the county become primrose coloured I have been thinking and looking out for Primulas and their hybrids.

I had an early introduction to these as I attended Great Bardfield primary school and my uniform sweatshirt was emblazoned with one.

Great Bardfield drew Henry Doubleday's attention in 1842 when he described the 2 acre meadow of Bardfield Hall "as a mass of yellow blooms" with Oxslips  (Primula elatior) growing by the thousand. On careful observation he felt they were probably a separate species from the False Oxslip ( now known to be Primula vulgaris x primula veris = P. x polyantha ) which was widespread in England at the time. He carried out cross pollination experiments, and the plants always bred true, so as a further check he sent plants to Charles Darwin who did the same and also crossed Primroses and Cowslips. Darwin's results were set out in a paper published in 1868 and left him in no doubt that the plants from Bardfield represented a separate true species which he referred to as the Bardfield Oxslip -  now Primula elatior

Bardfield Oxslips - now more often known as just Oxslips, have a fairly limited distribution in the UK and are mostly confined to the boulder clay of the Suffolk/Essex border. They are commoner on the continent, where they are also often found in woodland glades.

Oxslip or Primula elatior - here growing on the woodland edge in the Pyrenees

Owing to a decline in Oxslip numbers in and around Bardfield, the primary school became involved in a replanting project in 2002. Unfortunately they are savoured by Roe Deer and so woodland populations are often heavily grazed.

Here in Wales the only Oxslips you are likely to see outside gardens are the hybrids or False Oxslips. As described by Darwin in his experiments these are the result of crosses between Primroses P. vulgaris and Cowslips P. veris. They do vary slightly in form but generally have flowers which fall anywhere around the stem, unlike the Oxslip  P.elatior  which usually has blooms falling on one side only. They also often have an orange centre to each bloom.

Primroses often hybridize with a horticultural primulas leading to a variety of strange colours and forms - a few of which I observed in St Mary's Churchyard Abbeycwmhir last week and are pictured below.

Primrose or Primula vulgaris. 

False Oxslips - the hybrid between Cowslip ( P.veris) and Primrose (P.vulgaris) P. x polyantha. The flowers are falling anywhere round the stem and they have orange centres, as shown below.

The other parent, the Cowslip - also known as Peggles in Essex. ( P. veris)

And a couple of other Primrose hybrids also found at Abbeycwmhir.