Horticulture Magazine

Auricula Plant Care & Growing Tips

auricula flowers with purple, white and yellow colours

Auricula Overview

Official Plant NamePrimula Auricula L.
Common Name(s)Auriculas
Plant TypePerennial Flower
Native AreaEurope
Hardiness RatingH5
ToxicityNone
FoliageEvergreen
FlowersUmbels of salver-shaped flowers in pink, purple or yellow
When To SowMay, June, July, August, September
Flowering MonthsApril, May
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun or Partial Shade

Exposure
Exposed or Sheltered

Size

Height
0.1 – 0.5M

Spread
0.1 – 0.5M

Bloom Time
Spring

Soil

Preferred
Most Soil Types

Moisture
Moist but well drained

pH
Any

Auriculas produce flowers in an amazing array of colours and patterns, from essentially ‘block colour’ blooms in bright cheery tones through to highly intricate patterns comprising of daubs, stripes, and gradations in hues both diffuse and striking. Their diverse varieties mean that these herbaceous perennials are perfect for beds and borders but also for greenhouse cultivation and decorative planters.

The vernacular word ‘Auricula’ is an umberella term that encompasses (plants in) Genus Primula, the hybrids developed by crossing Primula auricula and Primula hirsuta, and the innumerable cultivars developed from them. These plants belong to Family Primulaceae, or the Primrose Family.

Genus Primula has 392 confirmed or accepted species and a further 534 unassessed ones; as a result, the total number of Primula species is between 392 and 926. Generally-accepted figures fall in the range of 425 to 450. Auricula hybrids and cultivars number in the few thousands. Species, hybrids or cultivars, these plants are herbaceous, evergreen perennials.

Centuries of such cross-breeding and confusion mean that – though there may or may not be such a thing as an ‘Auricula Society’ or a ‘Primula Society’ – there is such a thing as ‘Auricula and Primula Society’ – several of them, in fact.

Auriculas come in several types and sub-types, as outlined underneath. They occur as five-petalled salver-shaped single flowers and complex, ruffled double flowers. Some of these, for example Primula ‘Cinnamon’, could even be mistaken for a type of rose. Double Auriculas claim among them a few of the rare flowers that come in leaf green, and have pure black colouration. As for the single types, the descriptor ‘salver’ is a particularly apt one, for a large number of varieties resemble hand-painted miniature porcelain crockery.

black primula auricula in a garden
Self Show Auriculas Displaying a Burgundy-Black Colour

The ‘basic,’ simplest types are identified by the flowers’ velvety appearance, white central disk or ‘the farina,’ and bi-tonal gradation on the corolla.

‘Basic’ or ‘complex,’ one way or another Auriculas are highly ornamental plants that bear showy flowers – and ultra-showy or ‘show-offy’ flowers in view of their unique and complex patterns, extraordinary palette, and countless colour combinations.

These supremely ornamental plants come at a price, however. Where Auriculas are concerned, there’s no such thing as ‘easy-care’ and ‘low-maintenance.’ It’s about difficult and more difficult; high-maintenance and more high-maintenance. Not surprisingly, in general the more ‘complex’ and prized the variety, the more difficult it is to grow and the more high-maintenance it is. Even experienced gardeners who want to take the plunge into growing Auriculas would do well to begin by growing Border or Garden Types and Alpine types.

For gardeners who are diligent and determined, Auriculas are quite possibly the top choice to introduce unmatched colours, show, and ornamental interest to your garden.

Background and Origins

Auricula, renowned and prized for their flowers for centuries, are so named because of their leaves! These alpine plants’ leaves supposedly resemble a “Bear’s Ear,” which is one of their common names. The Latin word for ‘ear’ is ‘Auris,’ and ‘Auricula’ would mean ‘Little Ear.’

Primula and Auricula are native to Central Europe, growing in the Alpine and Sub-Alpine regions of Central and Eastern Europe. Auricula plants made their way into Europe’s gardens over 450 years ago, and hybrids and cultivars began to be developed about 350 years back. It was one of the very first “florist’s flowers” in the original sense of the word ‘florist,’ i.e. a professional who cultivates flowers to particular standards, and was and remains one of the most popular “florist’s flowers” in the present sense of the word ‘florist.’

yellow auricula on a mountain-side
Bright Yellow Primula Auricula in the Carpathian High Tatras, one of its Native Habitats

Foliage-wise Auriculas hold little interest and their leaves are variations on a theme. They are simple, obovate, and form a basal rosette. They are in varying shades of green, from pale green to a darkish bluish-green. Many varieties’ leaves have a sprinkling of farina.

Flowers are held in neat umbels though they may also occur in clusters. The number of petals vary from five to nine, depending on the particular type or sub-type. Single form flowers’ corollas may be valvate, twisted, or a type of imbricate, with twisted being the most common.

Varieties

As highly-cultivated plants that bear show flowers, Auricula varieties are divided and sub-divided into types and sub-types with highly-specific inclusions and exclusions of characteristics primarily related to pattern and secondarily to colouration. For the same reason, Auricula florists and fanciers use a jargon that we do not get into here. However, note that some specialists refer to the eye as ’tube’ and to the (often farinose) disk or centre as ‘eye.’ An individual flower is usually called a ‘pip.’ 

However, it would be helpful to go over the types of Auriculas. The vast majority of cultivar plants are of clump-forming habits and are from 20 to 40 centimetres tall. They have a short but spectacular flowering season for only about two months in spring with May being the happiest month.

The strongest types and most trouble-free to grow are Border Auriculas or Garden Auriculas. These have a white or cream-gold central disk (without farina) with the petals being in a single, though not necessarily solid, colour.

Alpine Auriculas are show flowers and are subject to rigorous specifications and restrictions. Specialists sub-divide them further into Light Centred, Gold Centred, and Laced. The corolla is sharply gradated from a darker hue near the centre to a lighter one at the rim. These types do not have any farina or meal on flower or foliage.

auricula flowers in various colours floating on water
Alpine Auriculas flowers floating on water, displaying an array of colours and tones

The specifications and restrictions go double for Show Auriculas, which are sub-divided into Self, Edged, Striped, and Fancy sub-types. Self Shows have a white or creamy farina with the petals in a solid, even-toned colour. Edged Shows display reduced ground colour in the form of a feathered ring between the disk and the edge, which is usually green and is more like a band than a mere ‘edge.’ Striped Shows have distinct radial striping, be it streaks, stripes or bands, from disk to rim. Finally, Fancy Shows are a basket class without highly specific restrictions into which any show type that does not fall into the three rigorously-described sub-types may be placed.

Finally, Double Auriculas are those with two or more rows of folded and ruffled petals such that they obscure the central disk.

Underneath we run through a representative sample of Auricula flowers, describing two of each type as we take in a few of our favourites.

Species: P. auricula L. is one of the ‘fundamental’ species and is one of only nine Auriculas to have received the RHS’s Award of Garden Merit. It bears brilliant yellow 2-centimetre flowers with the typical farinose disk, and with a distinct fragrance. It has a clump-forming habit and can reach half-a-metre in height.

Species: P. × pubescens is similarly a ‘fundamental’ hybrid and has also been accorded the Award of Garden Merit. It bears 2-centimetre wide fragrant flowers with a white, creamy, or yellow farina and is usually pink or purple in colour, but also white or red. This plant too has a clump-forming habit and is about 10 centimetres.

Purple Primula pubescens
A Bed of Purple and Gold P. × pubescens

Border/Garden: P. ‘Eden Goldfinch’ can hardly be matched for its bright cheeriness; the colours of sunshine are displayed by this variety: a yellow eye is surrounded by a cream-yellow disk progressing to flame-orange feathering into a ground of rich, bright sunshine yellow.  

Border/Garden: P. auricula ‘Lucy Locket’ features a flower as sedate and restrained as its name would seem to suggest. Yellow eyes and a hard white centre may be ‘normal’ but the soft pale ochre ground is a sharp change from the usual brilliant tones. 

Alpine: P. auricula ‘Piers Telford’ is a popular variety with colours that are deep and rich, and also contrasty. The central disk is a bright yellow adjoining which the petals start from blackish maroon, fade to red, and finish in pale orange.

Alpine: P. auricula hort. ‘Joyce’ if anything, is even more contrasty and displays intense colouration. The creamy-coloured disk is adjoined by violet petals that start nearly black, fading to violet, and further fading to a border of medium purple.

dark Primula auricula cultivar in terracotta pots
An Alpine Type With an Unusual Sandy Colouration

Double: P. auricula ‘Piglet’ puts out flowers replete with ruffles and frills that go perfectly with its baby pink colour, ranging from purplish-pink near the centre to pale pink near the border. The layman could be forgiven for confusing it with a carnation!

Double: P. Auricula ‘Golden Hind’ could be called a two-in-one Double as the ruffled petals are bright yellow with crimson to rose daubs at the base of the petals feathering into the yellow, similar to Edged Shows. Unlike most doubles it has a sweet scent.

Self Show: P. auricula ‘Red Gauntlet’ is ‘basic’ and stunning: the usual yellow eye is surrounded by a pure white farina which makes for a brilliant contrast with the ground of the deepest, richest, hard red.  

Self Show: P. auricula ‘Remus’ has the usual yellow eye and a pure white farina with a ground colour of the deepest, richest, royal purple. It is simple yet stellar.

two primula x pubescens close up
A Pair of Gorgeous Self Shows

Edged Show: P. auricula ‘Benny Green’ is virtually a four-colour variety starting off with a bright yellow eye and a creamy white disk. What ‘makes’ this variety is the extraordinary opposite-colour contrast between the green edge and the rich red-purple ground colour with appealing ‘ink bleeds’ into the edge. 

Edged Show: P. auricula ‘Maggie’ is an exceptional variety because of the absence of green and its ‘classic’ colour scheme. The eye is a deep yellow. The white disk is nearly matched by the off-white or grey-white edge in-between which a burgundy-black ground shows heavy and uneven feathering into the edge.

Striped Show: P. ‘Pinstripe’ does not have a very descriptive name. It has a yellow eye; the pure white disk is surrounded by a very deep purplish-burgundy hue that is streaked and striped with white, which shade predominates at the rim.

Striped Show: P. auricula ‘Blush Baby’ is for you if you like the white-and-red colour combination. While it has yellow eyes, the optical ‘hit’ lies in the pure white disk with bright rose-red petals that are brushed with white striping.

Purple and White Primula Auricula flowers
A Very Pretty Purple and White Striped Show

Fancy Show: P. auricula hort. ‘Monet’ is aptly named because it does remind one of the Impressionist palette and style. A creamy centre is surrounded by petals that subtly gradate and have gentle shadings between pale yellow and pale pink, with some ‘brushstrokes’ of pale lime green.

Fancy Show: P. auricula ‘Nantenan’ has a prominent yellow eye and white disk outside which the ground colour of bluish-green is interspersed with radial strokes and streaks of yellow that match the eye, and fade and gradate into the ground colour in a gently complementary colour scheme.

Habitat & Growing Conditions

As Auricula originate in Alpine and Sub-Alpine regions, cool to cold, dry climates suit them best. They are also accustomed to frequent rainfall but must have well-drained soils.

Though Auricula species are hardy enough to thrive in exposed locations, cultivars should be grown in sheltered locations.

In their native habitat of mountainous and forested regions, they get part sun, part shade,

All varieties are winter hardy, and their hardiness spans USDA Zones 3 to 8.

When and Where to Plant

Border Auriculas have a name that indicates just where they ought to be planted – borders and also beds and rock gardens, which is where Auricula species can be planted too, and also Alpine types if the climate is suitable.

All types are excellent choices for small gardens and for courtyards. Show types are perfect to grow as specimen plants in terracotta pots and in small, decorative planters in a cold greenhouse.

Auricula varieties need to be grown in a location where they get part-sun part-shade, are protected from high heat and humidity, and are sheltered from harsh elements but where there is a free flow of fresh air.

Primula auricula 'Matley' in an alpine garden
A Fetching Auricula With a Particularly Big, Bright Eye in a Terracotta Pot

Feeding, Care & Growing Tips

As a general rule, Auricula species and the Border or Garden types are the least difficult to grow, and the Show Types, such as Fancy Show, being quite difficult. These often need to be grown in a cold greenhouse or in a cold frame. It should not get too hot, too dry, too wet – they are sensitive plants and require care, alertness, and gardening expertise.

Because most Show Varieties can be finicky, what one can offer in an outline are broad recommendations that may need tweaking and tuning.

These plants should be grown in humus-rich soil or compost-based loam; in either case some grit or gravel should be mixed in. The soil should drain very well but should be kept moist in spring and summer. The pH should be from Neutral to Slightly Alkaline.

They need frequent but moderate watering but only through spring and summer. In the winter months they should be kept dry and get a mere sprinkling of water. 

Farinose foliage should not be made wet.

Free-flowing fresh air is necessary for Auricula health. 

You may apply a general-purpose organic fertilizer in January. In April, lightly feed the plants with 5-10-5 fertilizer to boost flowering.

There is no agreement on the best season to plant Auricula seeds. The answers you get will vary by society, nursery, or expert, and will span the year from November through July! We propose that seeds be sown as winter transitions into spring.

Pruning Auriculas

These small plants do not need pruning other than removal of diseased or abnormal parts. All you need do is deadhead in the flowering season.

Common Diseases & Problems

Auriculas are among those plants that are most prone to pests and diseases – you could almost say, if a plant disease or pest exists, Auricula cultivars – and even some species – are susceptible to it.

A laundry list of diseases and pests includes, leaf aphids, root aphids, leafhoppers, glasshouse red spider mite, vine weevils, slugs, botrytis aka grey moulds, leaf spot, and plant viruses.(!)

From among all of these worrying threats we feel that root aphids, botrytis aka grey mould, and vine weevil pose the greatest danger to Auriculas in the United Kingdom. Skilled and experienced gardeners may be able to cure plants taken down by these problems.

Where these sensitive plants are concerned, the best plan is to be vigilant and practise prevention by following the recommendations in section Feeding, Care & Growing Tips.

Where to Buy Auriculas

Auricula seeds and bare root plants are available from many nurseries and garden centres.

Be aware that you cannot get specific named varieties from seeds as they do not grow true. Seeds are great to grow a mix of typed Auriculas from. Being surprised with unexpected colours and patterns is part of the pleasure in growing Auriculas.

Specific varieties are propagated by rooting offsets just before or soon after the flowering season. Offsets are genetically identical to the parent plant.

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