Auricula Primrose

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

Common Name: Auricula Primrose[1]

Scientific Name: Primula auricula cv. (Primula x pubescens)

Thomas Jefferson mentioned auriculas many times in his letters and Garden Diary, and he received divisions from Bernard McMahon in 1807.[2] The species auricula, also known as "Bear’s Ear," is an alpine flower known by the Romans. From the early writings of Clusius, Gerard, and others we know that central Europeans had hybridized Primula auricula with the rose-colored P. hirsuta. These robust hybrids became known as the "garden auricula," P. x pubescens, and were popular plants for pots and parterres in the 16th century.[3] By 1665, the auricula flower had reached a high degree of development, an invention of the English Working Class as "florist flowers."[4]

The Auricula Primrose is a hardy, spring flowering perennial with umbels of large, flat, richly-colored flowers ranging from maroon-carmine, coral pink, deep orange, maroon-black with primrose yellow centers.

Primary Source References[5]

1767 April 2. (Entry in Garden Book). "...Auricula..."[6]

1786 August 12. (Jefferson to Richard Cary). "Having thought it best to put off getting the articles till the bearer of this was setting out, they have disappointed me of Carnations, Auriculas..."[7]

1807 February 25. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). Of Auriculas we have none here worth a cent, but I expect some good ones from London this spring; if they come safe, you shall have a division next season."[8]

1809 February 8. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "I will ask the favor of the bill at the same time, the amount of which shall be immediately remitted you...Auricula..."[9]

1811 March 10. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "seeds. Auricula."[10]

1811 April 8. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "my wants there are Anemones, Auriculas..."[11]

1812 February 16. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "seeds. Auricula..."[12]

1812 February 28. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "6 pots of Auriculas, different kinds."[13]

1812 December 1. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "I also do myself the pleasure of enclosing you some superior China Pink and Auricula seeds..."[14]

1813 January 11. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "I have too long delayed returned you thanks for your favors of Nov. 24. & Dec. 1. and the hyacinth roots with the seeds of the China pink, Auricula, & fiorin grass, which came safely to hand."[15]


  1. This section is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet.
  2. Betts, Garden Book, 337 and 340. Jefferson probably referred to the Primula vulgaris. See Edwin M. Betts, Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, and Peter J. Hatch, Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986), 75.
  3. Alice M. Coates, Flowers and their Histories (London: Black, 1968), 214 and David Stuart and James Sutherland, Plants from the Past: Old Flowers for New Gardens (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 203-204.
  4. Coates, 215-216.
  5. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  6. Betts, Garden Book, 4. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  7. PTJ, 10:228. Polygraph copy at Library of Congress.
  8. Betts, Garden Book, 340. Copy at Library of Congress.
  9. Ibid, 406. Polygraph Copy at Library of Congress.
  10. Ibid, 453. Copy at Library of Congress.
  11. Ibid, 455. Polygraph Copy at Library of Congress.
  12. Ibid, 480. Polygraph Copy at Library of Congress.
  13. Ibid, 481. Copy at Library of Congress.
  14. Ibid, 492. Copy at Library of Congress.
  15. Ibid, 504. Polygraph Copy at Library of Congress.

Further Sources