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Common Name: Auricula Primrose
Scientific Name: Primula auricula cv. (Primula x pubescens)
Thomas Jefferson mentioned auricula many times in his letters and Garden Diary, and he received divisions from Bernard McMahon in 1807.1 The species auricula, also known as "Bear's Ear," is an alpine flower that was 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.2 By 1665, the auricula flower had reached a high degree of development, an invention of the English Working Class as "florist flowers."3
The Auricula Primrose is a hardy, spring-flowering perennial with umbels of large, flat, richly-colored flowers ranging from maroon-carmine, coral pink, and deep orange, to maroon-black with primrose yellow centers.
- Text from Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet
Primary Source References
1767 April 2. (Entry in Garden Book). "...Auricula..."4
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, Auricules, Tuberoses, Hyacinth and Belladonna lillies which I had ordered."5
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."6
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..."7
1811 March 10. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "dble Anemone. Auricula...seeds. dble Anemone Auricula."8
1811 April 8. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "I have an extensive flower border, in which I am fond of placing handsome plants or fragrant—those of mere curiosity I do not aim at, having too many other cares to bestow more than a moderate attention to them. in this I have placed the seeds you were so kind as to send me last. in it I have also growing the fine tulips, hyacinths, tuberoses & Amaryllis you formerly sent me. my wants there are Anemones, Auriculas, Ranunculus, Crown Imperials & Carnations..."9
1812 February 16. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "dble Anemone. Auricula...seeds. dble Anemone Auricula."10
1812 February 28. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "This morning I done myself the pleasure of sending you by Mr Gilmer a box containing the following articles...6 pots of Auriculas, different kinds."11
1812 December 1. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "I also do myself the pleasure of enclosing you some superior China Pink and Auricula seeds; the latter should be sown some time in this month, as directed in page 646 of my work on Gardening."12
1813 January 11. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "I have too long delayed returning 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."13
- McMahon, Bernard. The American Gardener's Calendar; Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States. Philadelphia: B. Graves, 1806. Reprinted Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997. Numerous references to auricula primrose.
- National Auricula and Primula Society (UK)
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
- 1. 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.
- 2. 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.
- 3. Coates, 215-216.
- 4. Betts, Garden Book, 4. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
- 5. PTJ, 10:228. Letterpress copy at the Library of Congress.
- 6. Betts, Garden Book, 340. Recipient's copy at Library of Congress.
- 7. Ibid., 406. Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress.
- 8. Recipient's copy at Library of Congress. The excerpt noted here is in Jefferson's hand at the bottom of McMahon's letter, and is considered to be a draft of Jefferson's letter to McMahon of February 16, 1812.
- 9. PTJ:RS, 3:545. Polygraph copy at Library of Congress.
- 10. Ibid., 4:498. Polygraph copy at Library of Congress.
- 11. Ibid., 4:523. Recipient's copy at Library of Congress.
- 12. Ibid., 5:477. Recipient's copy at Library of Congress.
- 13. Ibid., 5:553. Polygraph copy at Library of Congress.