Clusters of bright yellow flowers wave on downy upright stems above bright green leaves in spring. The flowers are funnel shaped and may be single or double. They have red spots on their petals and a fresh fragrance. The nodding bunches of flowers lead to another common name, “bunch of keys”. The leaves are leathery and are produced in low growing rosettes. Plants go dormant in hot weather.

In Midsummer’s Night Dream Shakespeare tells us about the fairy who organized dances in the grass for Titania and describes the cowlips that are Titania’s bodyguards.

    The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
    In their gold coats spots you see.
    Those be rubies, fairy favors.
    In those freckles live their savors.
    I must go seek some dewdrops here
    And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

The reference to freckles goes back to the belief that cowslips were magic for the complexion and could treat wrinkles.


Type: Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Clusters of 1-30 bright golden yellow flowes are borne atop leafless stems in spring for several weeks.

Foliage: Bright green leathery leaves form a low growing rosette

Size: 6-12’ H x 16” W

Light: Part to full shade

Soil: Average, moist, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 4-8 (AHS zones 8-1)

Care: Do not allow to dry out.

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Reseeds readily; seeds have long ripening time and require cold stratification; division of rhizomes.

Companion plants: Spring bulbs

Outstanding Selections: ‘Prinic’ (also called ‘Katy McSparron’).

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By Karen