Evening primrose: growing, varieties & benefits

Evening primrose: growing, varieties & benefits

With its beautiful flowers, the common evening primrose steals the show from all the other plants in the garden. In this article, we will tell you what you need to consider when growing evening primrose and what are the benefits of using evening primrose.

When dusk falls in the evening, the common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) unravels its beauty. In the twilight, the bright yellow blossoms are in stark contrast with the dimming light of the day. The flowers will also greet you in the morning and you will be able to enjoy the beauty of the evening primrose in daylight, too.

Evening primrose: origin & characteristics

The common evening primrose seems to fit into the native flora of Europe seamlessly. However, it has not always been so, because the evening primrose is a plant that has been introduced to the continent. It was only in the 17th century that the perennial was brought to Europe from North America as an ornamental plant. Garden bed borders and fences did not stop this plant and soon it conquered the entire Old World. Other representatives of the genus of evening primrose (Oenothera) did the same. Some of them were created by crossing, and soon numerous species of evening primrose enriched the European plant kingdom.

The common evening primrose is by no means inconspicuous. Growing tall, it reaches heights between 80 and 180 centimetres and sticks out well above many of its leafy neighbours. Underground, things are no different, because its fleshy taproot can grow as deep as the plant is tall. In the first year, however, the biennial plant presents itself quite inconspicuously. Its lanceolate leaves are initially arranged in rosettes on the ground. It is not until the following year that the main shoot sprouts, with a long inflorescence appearing at its tip from June onwards. The bright yellow and sweet-scented flowers bloom gradually from bottom to top. They attract numerous species of hawk moths as well as many other species of moths and butterflies. Among them is the hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), which, as the name suggests, is reminiscent of a hummingbird with its way of flight.

how to grow evening primrose
The gorgeous flowers of evening primroses attract numerous beneficial insects and pollinators [Shutterstock.com/Maren Winter]

If you are interested in what kinds of butterflies fly outside your window, have a look at our article on butterfly species that are native to Europe. If you are wondering what do butterflies eat, you can find the answer in this article.

The most beautiful evening primrose species

The common evening primrose is just one among many relatives in its genus. Together with about 200 other species it belongs to the genus called Oenothera. In Europe, there are about 30 species of these plants. The common evening primrose is probably the best known of these. Here are other interesting representatives of the evening primrose genus:

  • Large-flowered evening primrose (Oenothera glazioviana): This species is widespread and can reach a height of up to 2 metres. Its flowers are slightly larger than those of the other evening primroses. The main difference, however, lies in the red buds and the red dotted stem of this plant.
  • Narrow-leaved sundrop or narrowleaf evening primrose (Oenothera fruticosa/ Oenothera tetragona): Although the flowers of this species of evening primrose shine in a typical evening primrose yellow, the growth of the narrowleaf evening primrose is not straight and upright but rather branched. The flower stems of narrow-leaved sundrops reach heights of up to 70 cm.
  • Pinklady or pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa): The appearance of the pink evening primrose is completely different. Its growth is not upright but branched to the side. Its maximum size is 30 cm. The flowers go from whitish to pink. Unfortunately, this species is extremely hard to control and spreads easily.
  • Bigfruit evening primrose or Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa): This species does not grow taller than 30 cm and is perfect for planting in rockeries or alpine gardens. There, it forms a dense and lush carpet of yellow flowers.

Planting evening primrose

You can buy evening primrose either as young plants or in the form of seeds. Potted plants can be planted out from spring until summer. The plants are hardy, but should not be exposed to frost too soon, as they will probably have grown up in a greenhouse.

The perfect location for evening primrose

Although the evening primrose is incredibly diverse, all species found in Europe somehow prefer the same thing. Outside of gardens and plantations, wild evening primroses can be found mainly where other plants have a hard time growing. They colonise gravel banks, railway embankments and fallow land as well as old quarries. Because evening primroses love sandy and nutrient-poor soil, they like to grow in soil with some lime. Of course, sunshine is crucial for evening primroses. They can still cope with partial shade, though. Most importantly, the location for evening primroses should be dry and not damp in winter.

How to plant evening primrose properly

You can grow your evening primrose in a pot as well as out in the open air. If you plant several specimens, you should make sure to plant large species such as the common evening primrose at a sufficient planting distance of about 30 centimetres. This keeps the plant well aerated and fungi stand no chance in infesting it.

growing evening primrose
When growing evening primrose, make sure that the plant has enough space in the soil for its lengthy taproot [Shutterstock.com/Mariola Anna S]

Since evening primroses have deep roots, you should always use a deep flower pot when planting evening primroses in pots. The substrate in it should consist largely of sand. For example, you can mix normal garden soil with 30 to 50 percent sand.

  • Choose a deep planter
  • For substrate, mix garden soil with at least 30 % sand
  • Keep the planting distance in the garden bed (at least 30 cm between plants)

Growing evening primrose: tips for evening primrose plant care

Evening primroses are extremely resistant. It is not for nothing that they have so quickly made the European wilderness their own. In any case, the undemanding plants do not need a fertiliser. And you can largely save yourself the watering, because the plant doesn’t mind even long periods of drought. One step that we recommend not skipping when it comes to evening primrose plant care is pruning. A vigorous pruning in autumn or towards the end of winter stimulates early flowering.

Propagating evening primrose from seeds

Evening primroses produce an incredible number of very small seeds. For this reason, if you don’t want to find this rapidly reproducing plant all over the garden, don’t throw the cut flowers in the compost.

Sowing evening primrose is very easy. If you want the plant to grow as an annual, early sowing at the end of April or the beginning of May is recommended. Evening primroses sown in July or August, on the other hand, will not flower until next year.

When sowing you should remember that evening primrose seeds require light to germinate. Therefore, do not cover the seeds with soil at all or leave them just lightly dusted with some soil on top. After about 12 to 16 days the first seedlings will appear.

Once the plant is established and allowed to ripen, it will seed reliably and provide you with new plant for next year.

Propagating evening primrose from seeds in brief:

  • Evening primroses produce numerous seeds
  • Sowing in April/May or July/August
  • Evening primrose seeds require light to germinate

Are evening primroses poisonous?

Evening primrose is not poisonous at all. On the contrary: all of the parts of the common evening primrose can even be eaten as a vegetable. The plant can also be used in various naturopathic ways, which we will further explain in the following.

Evening primrose use & benefits

Evening primroses provide eye-catching spots of colour in your perennial garden bed, but they also attract various insects, such as moths, butterflies and bumblebees. For this reason, the evening primrose is an excellent source of food for butterflies and many other insects.

However, the common evening primrose is not just a delicious treat for the insects in the garden. You too can enjoy the plant with all your senses. The fleshy taproot, for example, can be harvested in autumn and prepared as a delicious root vegetable. In spring, the fresh leaves are ideal for salads. The highlight in summer are the edible, bright yellow flowers, which can decorate all sorts of dishes. The flowers look enchanting in home-made ice cubes, which can then be added into lemonades or cocktails.

There is still more that the evening primrose can offer. The oil from the seeds of the evening primrose has a soothing and anti-inflammatory effect on irritated skin. Dandruff, dry skin and even neurodermatitis can be soothed. Evening primrose oil is used to make excellent natural cosmetic products.

evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil has calming effects on irritated skin [Shutterstock.com/Madeleine Steinbach]

The tea made from dried leaves, on the other hand, can counteract stomach and digestive problems. Even mood swings, moodiness and other signs that many people experience before their period are supposed to be calmed with evening primrose teas and extracts.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *