Pink evening primrose plant

If You Value Your Life and Yard, Don’t Plant This

Tired of your old garden? Plant pink evening primrose and you’ll never see it again. Steve Bender

OK, it may not be as bad as walking into a drugstore and discovering over-the-counter nerve gas or traipsing into your friendly guns and ammo outlet and finding a weekly special on A-bombs. But heavens to Betsy and her big sister Sue, I couldn’t believe what my local big box store was offering this week to innocent homeowners. Pots of pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). OMG.

Chances are you’re familiar with this pretty native wildflower, but until now you didn’t know its name. Huge sweeps of it bloom each spring on roadsides, banks, and in fields. Legions of fragrant, pink, two-inch flowers stand atop 12-inch stems. The weird, four-parted style in the center of each blossom always reminds me of a satellite dish. Perhaps it beams out a warning, “Plant me in your garden and I will devour it. A to-go box will not be necessary.”

Image zoom Pretty pink flowers hide an awful secret. Getty Images

Getty Images

My battle with this monster began a decade ago when a wayward seedling popped up in my perennial bed. It subsequently flowered so gloriously that like a common dolt, I left it there. What I didn’t realize is that every bloom drops lots of seeds. Even worse, after the plant’s foliage withers in summer, spreading roots grow by the furlong in every direction. A pink primrose tsunami swept over my garden the next spring, choking the phlox and drowning the daylilies. I had been had by something bad. Egad, I was mad!

What to do? Where I could dowse this botanical blight with herbicide without harming my good plants, I did so without a second thought. I pulled up all remaining stems I could find—it was surprisingly easy to do. However, any bit of root remaining in the ground grows into another patch that surfaces the next year. Thus, my garden has become like Korea’s DMZ. I stare at it vigilantly to head off invasion.

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If you see pink evening primrose (the common name is stupid by the way—unlike the yellow evening primrose, this one’s flowers open in morning and close at dusk) for sale at your garden center, I have a single word of advice. RUN. Do not buy. Do not plant. Do not say to yourself, “It’s a native plant, so it must be good.” Do not overlook the fact that any wildflower that can conquer acres of farmland can gulp down your garden in a single sitting—perhaps with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Plant of the Week

Oenothera speciosa range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor.

Showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor.

Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa L.)

By David Taylor

Showy evening primrose, or pinkladies, is in the Onagraceae (evening primrose) family. This family contains about 150 species worldwide that range from small to large, often weedy herbs. They are native to the Americas, but have been introduced to the Old World. Some species are grown as ornamentals. Members of this genus often cross and form hybrids. This evening primrose species is found from Pennsylvania west to Nebraska, south to Texas then eastward to Florida. It is also known from Connecticut, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and California. It also occurs in northern Mexico. The native range is southern Missouri through the southeast and to the southwest.

This evening primrose grows from extensive slender rhizomes that may be more than a foot below the surface. Overtime, a single plant can produce a clump of 200 centimeters (about 6 feet) in diameter. Simple toothed leaves emerge in late spring and are about 3 to 8 centimeters (1 to 3 inches) long and about 2 centimeters (3/4 inches) wide . They are on short petioles with fringe-like segments near the petiole. Flowers are produced in small clusters at the end of long stems. They are white tinged with pink to pinkish and 3.5 to 9 centimeters (1.5 to 3.6 inches) across. Flowering begins in May and may continue to October depending on location.

The evening primrose common name comes from tendency of flowers in this family to open in the afternoon or evening, although some open in the morning. The fruit is a narrow capsule 12 to 18 millimeters (0.5 to 0.7 inches) long. Typical habitat is in prairie, fields, meadows and open woodlands, often in sandy soil. It is usually abundant in these locations. It is available from many native plant nurseries and while attractive, it can become extremely weedy in a garden. Never dig plants from the wild.

For More Information

  • PLANTS Profile – Oenothera speciosa, showy evening primrose, pinkladies

Wildflowers In Your Gardens: Oenethera speciosa, the Pink Missouri Primrose

Oenothera speciosa, commonly known as the pink Missouri primrose, is a North American native that bone-weary pioneers first noticed as they traveled across the plains heading west. No doubt the pretty pink blossoms captivated the women who probably collected seeds or roots to carry to their new homes. The hardy little flowers obliged and have happily settled in all across the lower 2/3 of the U.S. and Mexico. (to USDA Zone 5a) I’ve seen them growing wild in Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma along busy roadways and have also enjoyed them in the gardens of the salon where my friend cuts my hair. They bloom almost all summer here in Kentucky and unlike most of the Oenothera genus, the flowers open at dawn and close in the evening. The rest of its large family of cousins prefer the opposite and open in the evenings, closing at dawn. Regardless of this anomaly, this plant is still lumped in the evening primrose category.

Also known as Mexican primrose, pink ladies and showy evening primrose, this plant is tough and easy to grow. Sometimes gardeners find it too easy to grow. PlantFiles reviews are quite mixed and a number of gardeners find it frustrating. It sends out runners from the roots and a small clump can become a huge patch in only a season or two. Don’t be mistaken and call it invasive though. It is a native plant and that term is only proper when talking about alien species. Aggressive is a much better term. This little primrose is best used as a ground cover in an informal garden. If you prefer your gardens symmetrical with no surprises, you probably should avoid it. Its wildflower heritage ensures that rigid control is impossible and new plants are guaranteed to pop up far from the original clump. It can be a darling in a sunny cottage garden, but frustrating in a more formal setting and can even invade lawns. Because of the shallow root system, new plants are easy to pull, so keeping it where it is wanted is not much of a problem.

The pink evening primrose is a drought-tolerant perennial that is even semi-evergreen in the southern part of its range, however in times of heavy drought, it can go completely dormant and disappear. So if you are using it as a ground cover, make sure to give it a drink in extreme conditions. It loves full sun and well-drained soil and the showy pink flowers (speciosa means ‘showy’ in Latin) only open for one day each, but more take their place each morning. Deer will avoid it, but only if there are other options available. It isn’t high on their menu, but in a pinch, they will browse it. The young shoots (before they bloom) are edible for humans too and were often used as a spring pioneer potherb.

Oenothera speciosa is a perfect pass-along plant and many a new bride went to their new homes with a bundle of roots from their mothers or grandmothers. They transplant easily and bring a smile to faces with memories of earlier days. If you have an informal, sunny spot, especially if it has poor soil or is a bit rocky, it could be a nice addition to your garden, but remember that it will overstep its boundaries, so prepare for surprises!

Growing Pink Evening Primrose – How To Care For Pink Evening Primrose

Pink evening primrose plants are showy when in bloom and make a good ground cover. These plants can also be aggressive, though, spreading rapidly and taking over perennial beds under certain conditions. If you know how to contain this plant, it can add a nice element to your garden.

What is Pink Evening Primrose?

Pink evening primrose is Oenothera speciosa, and is also sometimes called showy evening primrose and pink ladies. It is native to the southeastern U.S. and is considered an attractive wildflower in many locations. Pink evening primrose plants grow low to the ground and spread vigorously in an informal and loose way.

The foliage of pink evening primrose is dark green with some variation. The flowers are about two inches (5 cm.) across with petals that are almost completely fused. They are most often pink, but the flowers can also be pink to white or entirely white. It is closely related to the yellow evening primrose.

How to Grow Pink Evening Primrose

Growing pink evening primrose can be challenging only because it spreads readily and sometimes aggressively. It has the potential to take over your perennial bed and push out other plants. If properly managed, though, these flowers provide pretty and showy colors beginning in late spring and through much of the summer.

One way to avoid the rapid spread of pink evening primrose is to grow it in containers. You can even bury the containers in a bed, but this may not be foolproof. A more effective way to manage the spread is to give the plants the right conditions. Pink evening primrose spreads most aggressively when conditions are wet and soil is fertile. If you plant it in a bed that drains well, has poorer soil, and is generally dry, it will grow in attractive clumps.

Care for pink evening primrose isn’t difficult, considering how readily these plants grow and spread. It should have full sun and will tolerate heat, although extreme heat may limit its growth. In addition to keeping these flowers dry to prevent their aggressive spreading, another reason not to overwater is that it can develop a bacterial spotting.

Growing pink evening primrose will add nice color and ground cover to your garden, but only if you can contain it. Never plant it outside of a contained bed, regardless of the conditions or you may find your entire yard being taken over by it.

Pink Evening Primrose

Oenothera speciosa

Also called Mexican evening primrose, this is one of our beautiful native wildflowers. It has dark pink flowers and they start out kind of white and then they turn to pink. It’s a perennial. It dies back in the heat, but re-emerges again in cool weather to bloom in spring.

It’s normally only about 8 to 12 inches tall and 15 inches wide in the landscape. But it does get much wider if given plenty of space. It spreads easily so it makes a great ground cover, especially for large natural areas. As its name suggests, the flowers open in the evening but also during the day.

They also have yellow, powdery pollen pistils, giving them another common name, buttercups.

They’re easily established from seed. Plant in late summer or early fall along with other wildflowers. It’s very happy in the hottest, least cared for part of your landscape. It does great in rocky, shallow soils with no supplemental irrigation so don’t water these plants too much once you establish them. They don’t respond well to that and can have root rot. It also does well in natural, meadowy plantings with other wildflowers. It’s best planted in full sun and well drained soil and it does spread underground in the winter so it pops up all over the place the following spring in your yard.

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