March 9, 2008

Obsessive about obconica

New Cultivars of Primula obconica such as Embrace™ , a hybrid {. obconica distributed by S & G Flowers and Sygenta Horticultural Services, a company suppling commercial growers with premium varieties of plants. It may just be a matter of time, before growers in the U.S become confortable trying new crops, where in countries like Japan, these magnificent varieties are already out on the corners and in the trainstations.

In Japan, I was so impressed by the Primula obconica, P. malacoides and other primula commercially being grown for home use.I thusly became obsessed with searching for these varieties, to grow in my home greenhouse.

New picotee versions of Primula obconica varieties are available in Japan, but are snubbed by American growers. They also are not available to everyday consumers as seed, so for now, we are limited to "safer' varieties such as Libre.

Primula obconica may not be that familiar to many. In the early part of the twentieth Century, it was a common conservatory plant for the cool greenhouse, and plant window, providing color from early January, until May. This Primrose is tender, and cannot freeze, but struggles a bit in our warmer and dryer conditions that exist in modern apartments and homes, but if you have an old home, with a cool spare room, and and provide bright light, this is an excellent potted plant for the winter/spring season.

My first encounter with Primula obconica was in the late 1970's while I was in High School. As a horticulture major, I was awarded a job as a horticulturist at the estate of Helen and Robert Stoddard, in Worcester Massachusetts. Mrs. Stoddard was an avid horticulturist herself, and I still recall on all that I learned on the Stoddard's many acres of alpine gardens, greenhouses and specialty gardens, a garden that was popular on the garden-tour circuit at the time, and most notably, a garden that was designed by landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. At the Stoddard's, I fell in love with many plants, but it was the greenhouse full of Primula obconica, that I most appreciated. What would not fit in the staged plant window, I was able to take home to enjoy in my greenhouse. Besides, Mrs. Stoddard was allergic to the foliage, which related to today's absence of the species from many growers lists. Primula obconica foliage can be like poison Ivy to many, causing dermatitis from the chemical Primin which occurs in many Primula, but mostly in the leaf hairs of P. obconica.

My memory of P. obconica, includes their baby-powder fragrance, their lovely colors and their fragrant foliage. I can't remember if I ever broke out from them, by Mys. Stoddard would wear long gloves while grooming the plants. I bring all of this up for a reason- while in Japan last week, I saw stunning strains of Primula obconica, varieties and colors like I never have seen before, and since the few commercial forms and seed-grown forms that are available here in the US are so unexciting, I started an obsessive - post-jet lag search for newer varieties and strains, and hopefully, finding some seed for these amazing Japanese forms. As well, as some seed for the striking forms of Primula malacoides and Primula elatior or P. acaulis selections seen below in my postings from Japan.
What I discovered was disappointing news. The good news is that I think I found the source or these new varieties, but I also found that one must own a commercial license to obtain seed. The seed sold in America retail establishments are limited to primin free cultivars, such as P. obconica Libre™ . The amazing plants I saw in Japan, planted in street containers and available as massive potted plants, we're clearly the newer varieties being developed by Japanese and Dutch commercial breeders such as Sakata Seed. A California company has been testing some of these new Picotee forms, under numbers names in field tests, but most of these plants are not available, unless one purchases them from one of the 2 or 3 commercial sources. My guess is that most if not all commercial providers of seed in the US, as well as most, if not all of the commercial growers are avoiding Primula obconica as a pot plant unless they can buy Primin-free plants. The newer varieties that are so beautiful, still contain higher amounts of Primin in the foliage that the Primin-free forms ( none are completely Primin free), so err to caution and law suits, we, the public are left with less- beautiful forms. IF you can even find them.

I have ordered some seed from the UK for 3 varieties of Primula obconica, which I will try, with the Twilly™ series from Thompson & Morgan, possibly coming close to providing some bicolors. But look at the images of the Japanese forms, or the Dutch forms which are currently available everywhere except in America. They are amazing.

As for Malacoides, te better forms are only provided to commercial growers, leaving the crappy old forms available to us, via traditional seed catalog sources, which is unfortunate. I was able to find a premium Mix from B&T World Seeds in the UK, so I will try those. And as far as finding some of the striped and outlined poluanthus-acaulis-elatior primroses, and shown in the previous posting......If anyone has an idea on what variety this is, please let me know. Harlequin is a commerical variety that I found, but again, unless I can order from a commercial supplier, I am out of luck. This hwol Intellectual Property thing, in plants, is annoying, but, I suppose, necessary. I guess I just wish that there was an iTunes for plants, so that even amateur growers with greenhouses could still obtain some of the commercial forms, if they wished.


  1. Matt

    I came across your blog just a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to thank you for all the good, and inspiring information -- I am in the process of building my dream greenhouse in upstate ny -- it is designed to be very "green" in that it is build into a hill with the mechanical room and the potting room underground and a 25' cement and stone wall holds back the hill and acts as a solar collector via water tubes installed behind the stone -- so, hopefully, the water will heat all day and then recirculate in the floor at night. I know nothing about greenhouse gardening, and will be using your blog as my teaching tool -- to date I have been collecting hardy plants and designing/installing gardens at my home with them -- I just patented and launch a new green flowering echinacea called 'green envy' ...so the indoor gardening will be a new chapter. Perhaps we can talk more about your greenhouse expertise as I get closer to completion over the next month or so? mark@eventquest.com -- thanks again for all the great information and inspiration.

  2. Alan Lawrence7:05 PM

    Hi Matt,
    The pink P.obconica you show loks much like the seed I have supplied to the APS seed exchange for 6 years or so. The flowers start almost white and progress through shell pink to deep cerise; many with a white picotee edge throug much of the duration. Given a large enough pot these can put on impressive dislays; on plant given to a friend has been in continuous bloom for almost 2 years. I guess they treat it better than I treat mine! My P.malacoides seed also has some interesting
    2-tone pink forms many with w darker pink edge, and given a large enough pot will produce impressive plants with 50 - 70 blooms.
    Alan Lawrence

  3. Anonymous9:40 PM

    I just received a primul obconica as a gift. What do I do when the flower dry up and fall off? Do I trim the flower stems?

  4. Anonymous10:47 PM

    I received a obconica as a gift in January of 2009. It blossomed out and the leaves wilted. I cut back all of the foliage and continued to keep the soil damp.
    Last week, I was amazed to see the leaves growing and new beautiful blossoms blooming!
    This plant seems to thrive best when handled as little as necessary!
    Do you know if this plant can be placed outdoors when weather permits?

  5. I love this plant and have enjoyed many colourful blooms during cold winter months. Primula Obconica thrive on liquid fertiliser regularly (weekly even) and need to be watered at least to stop the leaves wilting. For lots of colour during the bleakest winter days put a Primula Obconica on your table during the day and leave it in the cold overnight.


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