Primroses and The Law


Contrary to what you might read on wikipedia, or occasionally hear along the byeways and bridlepaths, it is not illegal to pick primroses. It’s a common conception, “there aren’t as many around as there used to be”, but they are not a species in jeopardy, and they do not feature on the list of plants (Schedule 8) which accompanies the protective law in this country (The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).

There are restrictions on picking for commercial gain in Britain – harvests would belong to the landowner not the picker, plus the legal system’s notion of human nature is that, if there is money to be made, boundless greed and exploitation of resources logically follow. (To be sure, there’ll be plenty of precedents for this…) 

Interestingly, in America, a license from the forest service ought to be acquired for any wild plant collection. In Australia, permits now cover the import and export of certain regulated species. Their parliament has argued in favour of a wild flower industry worth $30 million in the late 1990s, stating, “The Western Australian Government believes that the bush harvesting of wildflowers is a good example of sustainable use of wildlife aiding conservation because the placement of an economic value on natural habitats provides an incentive for landholders to retain remnant bushland.” 

The other stipulation in British law is that plants shouldn’t be dug up without the landowner’s permission. Again, the law leans in to contend matters of property. But anyone foraging wisely, who cares about the sustainability of their find, would already be a little averse to digging things up.

So the message this mother’s day is go forth and pick her some primroses! 

A primrose path

“Let myriads of bright flowers,

Like Thee, in field and grove

Revive unenvied” – Wordsworth

Here are some extra reasons to love primroses at Mothers’ Day. 

  1. They are usually out at the right time of year – Primula is the diminutive of the Latin Primus meaning first, because they flower earlier than the landslide of spring blooms. 
  2. In their natural state, the 5-petalled flower-heads are perfectly bite sized in a salad or as a cake decoration. Great texture; slightly sweet, and a floral, maybe lychee, taste. 
  3. You can cut them through sugar (a la vanilla sugar), then use them to make a curd, as does the wonderful Liz Knight. Several people around the web then use them in meringue affairs, possibly paired with lemon. 
  4. There is something poetic about primroses. I was trying to examine this ascertion… The slightly frilly edge of the petals gives each flower head distinction and gentleness, something enigmatic, while each on its single stem stays very simple, frank, open. The colour and how they grow so low to the ground mean they’re understated, but they add light to low places where you don’t normally see it; they can actually make you see a patch of grass or a bank or verge that you’d otherwise dismiss. I could have kept going, then I remembered the expression “the primrose path” which turns out to be Shakespearean imagery for an unreally good imagined way forward. And it turns out they’ve inspired lots of proper poets – Wordsworth praises the faithfulness of their annual return, Gerard Manly Hopkins gives them an “instress of brilliancy – sort of starriness”, they prompt good feelings in John Donne, who writes, “Upon this primrose hill / Where, if heaven would distil / A shower of rain, each several drop might go / To his own primrose, and grow manna so; / And where their form, and their infinity / Make a terrestrial galaxy, / As the small stars do in the sky; / I walk to find a true love.”
  5. They are also scientifically interesting, even to the likes of Darwin, as there are actually two variants of the flower (effectively the sexes) the pins and the thrums. If you want to read more about that, see the Irish Times ‘A Brillliancy of Primroses…’.

Happy Mothers' Day

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