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Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose
All photos by Jim Mason

Common Name:
Evening Primrose

Scientific Name:
Oenothera macrocarpa

Ozark Sundrops

2004 Kansas Wildflower of the Year

O ne of the most startling wildflower displays on the prairie occurs when this species blooms in late spring.  Packing vivid yellow blossoms over five inches across, Evening Primrose really turns heads!  It can commonly be seen on road cuts and other rough ground, which makes it even more noticeable since there is no competing vegetation to block the view.

Evening Primrose close-up

This species is a perennial with a fairly short bloom period.  Its flowers may be seen in May and June, with the peak being mid-May in Kansas.  The individual flowers are only around for a day or so, which is common for most members of the evening primrose family.  They first open in the evening and wither the following day.

Pollination of this species is done by large hawkmoths and possibly also by hummingbirds.  The flowers of the evening primrose family typically have a large X-shaped pistil (red arrow), which projects beyond the stamens.  This distinctive feature is very easily seen with a close look at any blossom.

The leaves of this plant are narrow and lance-shaped.  They are up to 6 inches long.  Most varieties have a silvery sheen due to the many short hairs on the surface of the leaf.

Evening Primrose grows in a low sprawling manner, unlike some of its cousins which may get 5 feet tall.

Evening Primrose foliage

Evening Primrose is a complex of four similar subspecies which occur in the southern half of the Great Plains.  These are:

Fremont's Evening Primrose (subsp. fremontii) - found in chalk badlands and rocky hillsides in northwest and north central Kansas and four counties in Nebraska.  Formerly considered a separate species, it has smaller flowers and shorter wings on its seed pods than the other three.

Hoary Evening Primrose (subsp. incana) - found from southwestern Kansas to the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.  Hoary Evening Primrose is densely covered with short hairs.

Oklahoma Evening Primrose (subsp. oklahomensis) - found from the Gyp Hills of south central Kansas south into Texas.  This subspecies is the only one that is completely hairless.

Missouri Evening Primrose (subsp. macrocarpa) - widely distributed from central Texas through Oklahoma and eastern Kansas to southeast Nebraska.  It is also found in limestone glades in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri and Arkansas.  This has the largest flowers and seed pods of any of the four.

The seed pod of this species is very distinctive.  It has four papery "wings" on it that allow the pod to be blown about by the wind, helping to scatter the seeds.  This is the seed pod of Missouri Evening Primrose. Evening primrose pod

Evening Primrose blooms

After their astonishing show of yellow, the flower petals have one last touch of beauty to offer.  They turn a deep salmon color before they shrivel and drop off the plant.

Over 800 species of wildflowers are known from Kansas alone.  The peak display of wildflowers on the prairie occurs in June.  A lesser peak occurs in late summer when the late summer and early fall bloomers overlap.

Evening Primrose is a herald of the summer wildflower season on the prairie.  When you see it blooming, you know the show is just beginning!

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- This page was spun by Jim Mason -

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