Mystery Flora: Primroses or Just Roses?

There’s a kind of rose I’ve got used to calling a primrose, and which some of you lot swear are not, so I figured that since all you had to go by was the buds, I’d best post some blooms. Then you can duke it out amongst each other, and I’ll know whether I’m on a primrose path or not.

For bonus points, advise the clueless amongst us how to tell the difference between primroses and just roses.

Mystery Flower I

This one was taken on May 31st, 2012 along the trail between the North Creek Ballfields and the wetlands. Banks of them, there, filling the air with a fine, heady scent.

Mystery Flower II

A white version, shot on June 24th up where the North Creek greenbelt mostly ends.

Mystery Flower III

A new outburst of rosy beauty, photographed near the complex on September 19th.

So there’s those. They smell like roses, but I always associate actual roses with the cultivars such as these beauties:

Roses from the International Test Rose Garden, Portland, OR. June 2010.

(Did those make your eyes pop? They make mine pop. I can’t remember the variety, but I like to think of these as flamenco dancers. They’ve just got that Spanish flair to them somehow.)

Anyway, sure I’ve gone wrong somewhere. You can set me straight, and then we can all know whether we’re stopping to smell primroses or just roses or something else that is not a roses except by common name.

Mystery Flora: Primroses or Just Roses?
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25 thoughts on “Mystery Flora: Primroses or Just Roses?

  1. 1

    The first one is pretty clearly the Nootka Rose (Wikipedia), common around the Puget Sound. It’s an invasive little cuss, often found duking it out with the blackberry for who gets to own the fence-line around every farmer’s fields.

  2. 2

    the ones you call primroses are just wild roses or old, simple-form cultivars (the third one looks like a rosa rugosa called Hansa, very popular as a landscape plant because it’s virtually unkillable) – I like them a lot better than the hybrid-tea type you have as your typical rose, these tend to be much more delicate and often lacking in perfume.

  3. 3

    I think what you are calling primroses I would call wild roses. Roses (as in genus Rosa) have compound leaves and are spiky.

    To me primrose = genus Primula. Wikipedia tells me, though, that several other plants in entirely different families also go by the common name primrose.

    I love that last rose! It reminds me of one of my favourite rose cultivars, the religiously-named Joseph’s Coat.

  4. rq

    Yes, just roses – wild ones. The starter species, so to speak, for all the other crazy rose varieties out there. Also the provincial flower of Alberta (if memory serves). Sometimes called the dogwood rose, but I don’t know why.
    I’m also of the primrose = Primula sort, with thick succulent leaves and little, brightly coloured flowers in bunches. I’ve never actually heard any other flower referred to as a primrose, either.

    This past weekend we went to visit the rose garden at the ‘local’ baroque-to-jugendstil palace (it’s not the Versailles but it does quite well for itself), and I realized that there are way too many varieties of rose out there. Personally I like the brightly coloured ones (as above) in shades of yellow and red; delicate pinks are a close second, especially the white-base-pink-edging kind. I can’t decide about blue roses, though (actually a dusky lavender-pink) – they look dirty (in the clean sense of the word) but there’s something very intriguing about the colour.
    At the end of the day, though, any rose that smells nice will do for me. Much more partial to that smell than, say, lilies (I think I mentioned that somewhere already on this blog).

  5. 6

    I’ve never heard of roses being called primroses before. Is this an American regional thing?

    Roses(genus Rosa) are woody shrubs or rambling briars with vicious thorns. Primroses, as I know them, are perennial plants with usually rosettes of leaves at ground level with the multi-flowered stalk rising from these.

    Edit. Beaten to it by Heliconia and rq.

  6. 7

    Further to rq’s comments, I prefer the old cultivars known as Moss Roses and the single -flowered climbers. The hybrid-t’s are too ostentatious for my taste.

  7. 8

    As everyone else has said, wild roses. Very common in the Puget regions.

    I’ll also point out that the cultivated roses are universally grafted onto wild rootstocks. If they should die back below the graft you’ll have a wild rose in your yard. I’ve got a couple!

    Love the bee on number 1!

  8. 9

    The top rose is the Pacific Northwest native Nootka rose. (Rosa nutkana)

    I’m not sure of the second. The leaves look like those of an evergreen.

    The third one is the wild evergreen rose.

  9. 10

    A primrose is not a rose, in spite of the common name. Primroses are Order Ericales, Family Primulaceae, Species Primula, roses are O. Rosales, F. Rosaceae, Species Rosa.

    To tell them apart on the ground, roses are shrubby, with woody stems. Primroses are herbaceous (soft stemmed), with a basal rosette and rather coarse leaves.

    Look at the center of the flower; the primrose has a coloured “well” there, and the rose has a solid center ringed with stamens.

  10. 13

    Looks like the mystery is solved, so there is only one thing to add:

    The Rose Family

    The rose is a rose,
    And was always a rose.
    But the theory now goes
    That the apple’s a rose,
    And the pear is, and so’s
    The plum, I suppose.
    The dear only knows
    What will next prove a rose.
    You, of course, are a rose –
    But were always a rose.

    — Robert Frost

    Because the genus Prunus, in the same family as Rosa and includes apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds.

  11. 14

    The second one is what, in my experience, has always been called the basic “Rugosa rose.” Note the more highly textured/ridged leaves — those are what botanists refer to as “rugose” and thus the reason for the name. I’d guess that the third one is a variant rugosa because of the leaves, although I’ve never seen one like it here on the east coast.

  12. 16

    Sorry, my dear! I’ve had it set to moderate multiple links for a while now – keeps the spammers from getting ambitious, but it also interferes with the regulars. I release as soon as I can, can’t always reply with reassurances when I’m at work, though! You can also be caught up because the filter will sometimes get odd ideas about words. Sigh. Never fear: you’ll never be trapped for long!

  13. 18

    A correction – Rosa and Primula are genera, not species.

    Roses and primroses have little to do with each other beyond having “rose” in the common name. This is an example of why common names, although often convenient, are often not just uninformative but actively misleading. Further examples could be provided more or less indefinitely. :-)

    Basically, if it looks or smells at all like a rose… it’s not a primrose. If you’re uncertain whether it’s a rose or a primrose… it’s not a primrose. If you are not a botanist nor an avid gardener, odds are you have never seen a primrose. If we want to go into more explicit morphology rather than just gestalt…

    Roses: have prickles (commonly called thorns); have compound leaves; have stipules; have free petals; have a hypanthium; have an apocarpous gynoecium with many (>10) carpels; etc…

    Primroses: do not have prickles (no thorns, either); have simple leaves; do not have stipules; have connate petals; do not have a hypanthium; have a syncarpous gynoecium with 5 carpels; etc…

    A couple examples of primroses here and here.

  14. 19

    And “rose” is sometimes used among botanists as shorthand for the whole family (Rosaceae) rather than just the genus (Rosa)… same for “aster”, “mustard”, “primrose”, etc…

  15. 20

    Oh, and now you’ve introduced another confusion. “Moss roses”–at least, in the only usage of this common name with which I am familiar–are not roses. They are purslanes, Portulaca grandiflora.

    OK, I’ll stop posting in this thread now…

  16. rq

    Ooo, great site! I have also not heard of moss roses as real roses. Thanks for the education. (I also looked up the rambling roses, some beautiful plants there, too – getting ideas for the future garden now.)

  17. 25

    Just to make things even more confusing, there are also Evening Primroses, which are in a completely different family (Onagraceae). They’re easy to spot because they bloom at night and only have 4 petals.

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