Wild Flower of the Year 2016 (Germany)


Every year the Loki Schmidt Foundation selects a wild flower to highlight as its “Wild Flower of the Year”. Loki Schmidt was a botanist and in her fortunate position as wife to one of our former Chancellors, Helmut Schmidt, (who sadly died just a few days ago) she was able to found this Hamburg-based charity. The Foundation promotes the maintaining of habitats for wildlife and works to protect endangered species through education. Amongst other projects, they have bought up small areas of land in the north of Germany where certain plants or animals are threatened.

For 2016 one of my favourite wild flowers (I do have many favourites!) has been chosen: the Cowslip, or Primula veris.


In much of Germany this little flower is on the red list, as its preferred habitat – dry meadows on alkaline soil – is dwindling due to land development, agricultural use or the intensive use of fertilizers. In choosing this flower the Foundation also hopes to bring attention to the loss of such meadows and similar habitats. In the south of Germany we are more fortunate, and cowslips are still found in the wild fairly often, although not as frequently as I would like; coming across them down near our canal is like finding hidden treasure.


Many years ago I remember being taken out by my mentor on a car ride in the south of Germany. I had no idea what the purpose of the trip was until we arrived and there they were – millions of cowslips filling a large meadow on a dry stony hillside. What a wonderful sight, and one I will possibly never see again.

Now I am cultivating a small area of our lawn where they have self-seeded…


Each spring I wait eagerly to see them appear, and this area is not to be mown until they have safely spread their seeds again. This is where the strict farming regulations and nature reserve rules in our area assist in preserving wild flowers too – certain meadows should not be mown until June in order to ensure that some species recur naturally. I don’t think this is actually an enforcable law, as I do see farmers mowing too early sometimes, but I think subsidies must be an incentive for most to stick to the rules.

A Meadow in May

A Meadow in May

Primula veris is a sun-loving plant and in our climate usually flowers in April and May. It is a protected species, and may not be picked or dug up from the wild. However, a single plant can spread quickly into a bigger clump, seeding itself around profusely.

“Beneath the sun I dance and play

In April and in merry May”

(Cicely Mary Barker)


The botanical name Primula means first and veris means spring. One of the common names in the German language is Himmelsschlüssel – meaning “heaven’s keys”; the legend goes that St Peter dropped his keys to the gates of heaven and the first cowslips grew up where the keys landed! I then looked up the English common names in Wikipedia –  a long list of them that I have never heard before, including herb peter, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, and tittypines! Wikipedia claims that “In the Middle-Ages it was also known as St. Peter’s herb or Petrella and was very sought after by Florentine apothecaries.” In herbal medicine the extract of Primula veris is used in cold remedies to relieve coughs and bronchial symptoms.

Although it will be some time before we see the Cowslip flowering again here, a close relative has decided to flower for me in November…

Primula x pruhoniciana "Schneewittchen"

Primula x pruhoniciana “Schneewittchen”

Are you also having such a mild autumn?

59 thoughts on “Wild Flower of the Year 2016 (Germany)

  1. Lovely post Cathy, interesting to read its common names, although none I have heard of before. Not far from here we have a protected field where they self seed and its a wonderful sight. I really like the idea too that your are growing some in your lawn. Its been very mild here, but today we have the tail end of a storm coming down from Scotland bringing colder winds.

  2. We are having a wild Autumn here due to the weather!
    There is a field near to our previous house that was classified as a SSI which was covered with wild orchids and cowslips. People use to travel from miles around to see it.

    • Brian, I am out of touch with English abbreviations – please tell me what SSI means! I’d love to see wild orchids en masse. I sometimes find the odd one or two on walks.

  3. In my thoughts I am in time ahaed and do imagine spring and these flowers. Also we still have a mild autumn. Yesterday I have ordered the calendar and greeting cards of the Wild Flower 2016 at the Loki Schmidt Foundation. Yes, there are still lovely flowers aroound!

  4. A lovely post, Cathy. I love cowslips too, we are lucky here in Suffolk, because they grow in profusion on many verges and ditches. We have oxlips too, although they are rarer.

  5. Yes, we are very mild too, unusually so. It’s just as well that my cowslips can’t read your post saying that they prefer dry meadows in the sun on alkaline soil, mine are all in the shade on wet acid clay! They must still be happy as they are seeding around and increasing beautifully.

    • They must be tough little plants. I suspect the reason they are no longer seen in northern Germany is mainly agriculture and land development. I hope they never get too rare down here in the south.

  6. Cowslips are one of my favourites too. So delicate and unassuming. We have some in the garden (dry, chalky soil) and I’m hoping they’ll spread around. Lovely post.

  7. What a beautiful post honouring a delightful and humble little flower! You’d be in heaven here where we live, Cathy, as in spring a yellow cloud descends on us when exactly these primulas open their dainty buds in their hundreds and thousands. Subsidies sadly play a big part in the destruction of habitats. I was shocked to see farmers making hay this year as early as April (!). Bye-bye orchids and other precious wildflowers not to forget about all the ground-brreding birds and mammals…yes, it has been very mild and they say it’ll be a mild winter around here too. Have a nice weekend 🙂

  8. I always look forward to reading about which wild flower has been chosen for the year in Germany. I also loved the personal details in this post, how lovely to be taken to see a meadow of cowslips without knowing in advance what you were to see. Today is the first overcast day for a couple of weeks but it remains warm. Annette says it will be a mild winter but I had heard that it would be cold here; inevitably no-one really knows until it happens.

    • Precisely – we will all just have to wait and see what the winter brings. I just hope it isn’t too long or too grey. Snow would be nice for the Christmas markets!

  9. It is such a lovely sunny flower, love seeing it in the spring. Well done for growing it up on your lawn. I always look up for the common names of plants, so interesting and fun as well.

  10. Thanks for this wonderful post Cathy. I love the entire genus, which is huge, maybe over 500 species, not to mention a zillion hybrids and cultivars. But for me, wildflowers, species, alpine, woodland and meadow primula in their natural habitats are a sight to behold. I know that in Europe primula enthusiast abound. I love the alpines, but not to the exclusion of others. I’ve posted a bit on primulas, mostly alpines. Here’s a post about P. poylneura. which deserves more attention and use in the landscape:

  11. Cowslips are lovely flowers. We are quite lucky here because they are an abundant roadside flower. I’ve set aside a small meadow area in our lawn too and wait for the cowslips to appear just like you. Thanks for such a cheering post.

    • It must be lovely to see them at the roadsides – we have a few patches here and there on one route I drive, but they are not as abundant as I would wish!

  12. I read this post last night and went to bed thinking about primroses and spring and summer meadows… thanks!
    So far p. veris is the only primula which doesn’t seem to fatally object to my garden conditions. I added a few seedlings this summer and hope to have a bigger show next spring. I really love your summer meadow photos 🙂

    • May must be the prettiest time of year around here as we have quite a few meadows nearby full of wild flowers. Sweet dreams of spring and sunshine! 😉

  13. It is a beautiful idea to have this wild flower of the year. I wish more countries would take up the idea for so many people are ignorant about the wild flowers around them (me included!) I grow coloured Primula in the garden but it would be so much nicer to choose the native variety. they look beautiful in the meadow too. Amelia

    • I also like this idea, and ‘Blume des Jahres’ is one of the few such campaigns that really does work towards protecting the flower highlighted, as well as its habitat. I love seeing the other primulas too, but this one is just special. 😉

  14. A friend gave me some cowslips many years ago and they are happily spreading themselves around. Your photo of the spring meadow filled me with longing for those warm days!
    Although they are predicting warmer temps on Monday, today was windy and cold (wind chill -3C). Brisk walking only, no dawdling! 🙂

  15. I love reading about your wildflower of the year. I remember last year’s post as well. It’s nice what simple things can make a difference, like simply waiting to mow. How exciting to have these flowers growing in your lawn. They’re cute!

    • Charming thought! Did people really name such a pretty plant after cowpats?! I prefer to think of the ‘slip’ part meaning underskirt…. Thanks for the link Steve!

  16. They are one of my favourite wild flowers and I remember seeing them in profusion on Dorset chalkland as a child. More recently I was surprised to see them growing in profusion along roadside verges in Suffolk (as Chloris commented above).

  17. So lovely Cathy. They are a Springtime favourite of mine too. Here near to the edge of the Chilterns, they thrive on the chalk soils and are a regular sight in the meadows around and about.

  18. Pingback: In a Vase on Monday: Sunshine and Blue Skies? | Words and Herbs

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