Hoary primrose – Primula incana

Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

Hoary primrose

Primula incana

Common Names

hoary primrose
Jones primrose
mealy primrose
silvery primrose

*The common names ‘hoary primrose,’ ‘mealy primrose,’ and ‘silvery primrose’ are frequently used interchangeably to describe Primula incana. These names are evenly represented across various botanical references, floras, and plant databases, indicating no universally preferred term among the three.


Primula americana
Primula farinosa subsp. incana
Primula farinosa var. incana



Genus: Primula
Family: Primulaceae
Order: Primulales

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

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Identification and Information

Commonly known as the hoary primrose, silvery primrose, or mealy primrose, Primula incana is a perennial herb characterized by its small flowers and slender, fibrous rhizomes. It possesses non-succulent, elliptic to oblanceolate basal leaves, which are 1-6 cm in length and 0.3-1.6 cm in width. The leaves exhibit acute to obtuse apices, and their bases taper gradually into a broadly winged petiole. The margins of the leaves are finely denticulate, particularly towards the apex, and they often show a slight revolute tendency (leaf edges roll slightly back). Notably, the plant’s leaves, and often the entire vegetative part of the plant, are frequently coated in a whitish or yellowish powder, giving it a farinose appearance. However, as the plant ages, this farinose coverage may lessen or even disappear. The leaf surfaces are glabrous or free from hairs. P. incana showcases erect scapes (stems) that can grow up to 46 cm in height. The scapes are absent of cauline leaves, which are leaves that typically grow along the stem of a plant.

The inflorescence consists of 4-19 flowers. The flowers are supported by thin, erect pedicels measuring between 3-9 mm in length. The pedicels are densely coated with the same whitish or yellowish powder, or farina, that often adorns the vegetative parts of the plant. The inflorescence features involucral bracts that are flat to sac-shaped at the base, lanceolate in shape, and densely covered in the characteristic whitish or yellowish farina, spanning a length of 5-10 mm. These bracts are roughly equal in size. Each flower of P. incana is homostylous, featuring lavender-colored corollas that bear a yellow throat. The corolla’s lobes, which can range from slightly to moderately cleft, span a width of 4-8 mm. Enveloping the corolla is a green, broadly cylindric calyx, which measures between 4-10 mm and is eglandular. The calyx is densely covered in the same farina seen on the pedicels and involucral bracts. The length of the corolla tube is approximately equal to that of the calyx.

Following the flowering period, which occurs from May to July, P. incana produces fruits in the form of capsules. These capsules are cylindrical to ellipsoid in shape and measure 1.5-2 times the length of the calyx. The seeds within these capsules are reticulate (net-like in appearance) and lack flanged edges.


For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

There are no documented traditional medicinal or culinary applications for Primula incana.

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Distribution and Habitat

Primula incana is broadly distributed across northwestern North America, which includes territories such as Alaska, the majority of western Canada, and the Rocky Mountain states within the United States. Despite this extensive range, it is considered an exotic species in Ontario, according to NatureServe.

While P. incana is relatively distinct, it should be noted that there are numerous species of Primula that bear a strong resemblance to it. Particularly, P. laurentiana, commonly known as bird’s-eye primrose, substitutes P. incana in eastern North America due to similar ecological preferences. Another species that closely mirrors P. incana, and has overlapping distribution areas (including Alaska), is P. egaliksensis. However, P. egaliksensis can be differentiated by its inflorescence, which typically displays fewer flowers (only 1-3), a greater likelihood of possessing white flowers, and its leaf blades, which lack the deep veins seen in P. incana.

It frequently lives in wet, alkaline clay soils in moist meadows or floodplains.


RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (Plants)
SubkingdomTracheobionta (Vascular plants)
SuperdivisionSpermatophyta (Seed plants)
DivisionMagnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
ClassMagnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
FamilyPrimulaceae Batsch (Primrose family)
GenusPrimula L. (primrose)
SpeciesPrimula incana M.E. Jones

References and Further Reading


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E.

Classification and Taxonomy

Primula incana M.E. Jones, Canadensys

Primula incana M.E. Jones silvery primrose, USDA Plants database



Map and Distribution

Primula incana M.E.Jones, GBIF Database

Primula incana Jones Primrose, NatureServe Explorer

Description and Information

Primula incana M. E. Jones, Flora of North America

Primula incana M.E. Jones, Flora of British Columbia

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