Grow Evening Primrose for Late-Day Beauty

OENOTHERA

Once cultivated for its delectable roots, evening primrose (Oenothera) is now often grown for its omega-6-containing seeds.

Close up of a planting of light pink and white evening primroses.

It’s also grown for its beauty. Oenothera displays large, goblet-like flowers in yellow, white, or pink — each bloom with four petals.

Evening primrose is so named for its habit of only showing its attractive flowers late in the day, similar to four o’clock, though it does leave them open until around mid-morning the following day.

Let’s learn more!

An American Original

Oenothera is native to North America but was taken to Europe in the 1600s, scientists surmise, where it has now naturalized. The plant has also traveled to many other parts of the world.

Depending on the variety, this plant – also known as coffee plant, golden candlestick, and a host of other nicknames – can be biennial, annual, or perennial.

Evening primrose is beautiful and medicinal | GardenersPath.com

Some varieties have an upright growth habit, reaching heights of 6 feet and a width of 24 inches, where others are used as ground cover or for container plantings, growing no higher than 6 inches.

Various varieties, some of which are quite fragrant, do well in zones 3-11.

Skin and Bones

Native Americans used the whole plant for treating bruises and used its roots for treating hemorrhoids. The leaves were traditionally used for tending to minor wounds, gastrointestinal issues, and sore throats.

Today, oil pressed from the plant’s seeds is marketed in capsule form to help a number of conditions including eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, and osteoporosis.

Evening primrose plants are especially attractive in groupings | GardenersPath.com

The gamma linolenic acid — a type of omega-6 fatty acid — contained within the oil is used by the body to regulate blood pressure and to keep the immune system functioning well.

The root, which is said to have a light peppery taste similar to salsify, can be eaten raw or prepared as you would any root vegetable.

Birds, perhaps seeking a little omega-6 of their own, enjoy eating the plant’s seeds, as do some humans who use them as one might use poppy seeds.

You Just Have to Decide Which One

There are dozens of varieties of oenothera.

Many evening primrose varieties are drought tolerant | GardenersPath.com

Common evening primrose, Oenothera biennis L., can grow as tall as 6 feet. This biennial produces produces leafy stalks the first year, which are adorned by large, lemon-yellow flowers in the plant’s second year of life.

Common Evening Primrose

Find seeds for the common variety from Everwilde Farms via Amazon.

O. Berlandieri, or Mexican evening primrose, on the other hand, is a spreading perennial. It only grows to a height of about 18 inches. Native to Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico, this plant will grow in infertile soil, with minimum water and full sun.

Evening primrose ‘showy’ (O. speciosa) also thrives in heat and is drought-tolerant. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall and displays pink, pale lavender, or white and pink flowers.

Evening primrose is easy to grow | GardenersPath.com

Evening Primrose ‘Showy’ Seeds

You can find this variety at True Leaf Market.

O. pallida, or pale evening primrose, is a low-growing biennial native to the western United States.

Pale Evening Primrose Seeds

Find seeds for this plant at Seedville, available via Amazon.

Basic Soil and a Little H2O

Primrose is widely adapted and, depending on variety, will do well in full sun to light shade. These plants are attractive in groupings, and the spreading forms make a lovely groundcover.

Oenothera prefers well-drained soil and can tolerate high pH levels. It will do fairly well in poor soil, but it will really thrive in soil that has been amended with some organic matter.

Evening primrose was once cultivated for its edible roots | GardenersPath.com

Most varieties are quite drought tolerant, requiring little supplemental watering.

You can propagate from seed or by division. You may be able to find seedlings at a garden center. Plant in spring when all danger of frost has passed.

I Think Not

Interestingly, some gardeners plant Oenothera as a trap plant to attract Japanese beetles away from other, “more desirable” plants, such as roses.

Harumph.

Learn all about native American beauty evening primrose, the plant that shows off at night: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-evening-primrose/

 

Unfortunately, the plant is a tasty treat for lygus bugs and leafhoppers, as well as Japanese beetles.

Try diatomaceous earth or insecticidal soap to banish these beasts.

Food, Medicine, Beauty

With dozens of varieties to choose from, we’re hard-pressed to come up with a reason why you wouldn’t add easy-care Oenothera to your garden.

Pretty evening primrose is widely adapted | GardenersPath.com

Give this native American beauty a try — in the garden, in the kitchen, and maybe even in the medicine cabinet. We’d love to hear about your experiences with this plant in the comments section below.


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of delicate white and pink evening primrose blooms.

Product photos via Everwilde Farms, True Leaf Market, and Seedville. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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ZELDA LEE HOOVER
ZELDA LEE HOOVER (@guest_1773)
2 years ago

New (to me) plant showed up in my garden this spring. I waited to see what it would appear to be. So now it is 5 ft. tall w/yellow blooms on top. I believed it to be yellow primrose, so looked on the web Sure enough! That’s what I have. Several plants. Lovely…

Margo-Ro
Margo-Ro (@guest_4069)
1 year ago

Thanks for the information. We have primrose everywhere in central TX. (Aus-TX)
Thought I’d share a photo I took.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Margo-Ro
1 year ago

Beautiful! I love the way they’re catching the light. 🙂

Gordon Green
Gordon Green (@guest_4190)
1 year ago

I am told that these types of flowers are a wonderful attraction for bees who are drawn to the nectar within the flower. Is this true?

Allen Bernstein
Allen Bernstein (@guest_4256)
1 year ago

I inherited a clump of yellow evening primrose but have had no success propagating them from seed. What is the germination time from seed?

Phyllis Hamilton
Phyllis Hamilton (@guest_4276)
1 year ago

Gretchen, I am entranced by your site, and your energetic and lighthearted bio! I will look forward to keeping in touch — and am especially happy that you’re in Texas, where I lived and worked for quite a few years in the 1970s — and first became familiar with the evening primrose, which I loved to see, as I drove to dog shows at the crack of dawn and then again home in the evening.
Blessings!!!

Martha
Martha (@guest_4392)
1 year ago

We have had much rain in NY and my primrose have fallen over and causing some to dry out making my flower bed look unkempt. Can or should I top/trim them for more blooms or just to look neat?

Jenny simard
Jenny simard (@guest_4395)
1 year ago

I bought a Mexican evening primrose but heard it can be quite invasive – is that true? I have it in a flower bed with other perennials and don’t want it to take over everything , I am not sure if I should move it now to a different location

Mary Ellen
Mary Ellen (@guest_4400)
1 year ago

Should I deadhead my evening primroses so that they continue to bloom all summer?

Yolanda Sandoval
Yolanda Sandoval (@guest_4457)
1 year ago

I have a Ospeciosa. It was beautiful I transplanted it as it was given to me in a tub. Now it doesn’t bloom. What could I have done to it. I am new to plants and gardening I enjoy it, but sad my evening primrose not doing well.

Lisa
Lisa (@guest_4572)
1 year ago

So strange…I have one plant doing well. Blooming like mad, And one 6′ away from it with no blooms and the leaves are turning red. Any idea what’s up? Thanks!

Kristi
Kristi (@guest_4631)
1 year ago

My Mom-in-law has several established evening primrose growing alongside her driveway. We enjoy watching them bloom and draw in the hummingbird moths on warm summer evenings. They just pop open right before your eyes!! Extremely cool!

Selina
Selina (@guest_4819)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
1 year ago

Help! I have planted Mexican Evening Primrose from seed. It germinated! The plants are 12” high. Can I expect flowers this first year? Thx

V Wilson
V Wilson (@guest_4848)
1 year ago

I’m zone 3 and have some in pots. Wondering how to over winter them to plant in the garden next year.

Gail Cox
Gail Cox (@guest_4870)
1 year ago

This is one of the worst invasive plants ever. It chokes out any other flower that grows nearby. There’s no stopping it. I completely dug up a bed and killed the primrose with roundup. Covered the bed with landscaping cloth and replaced the dirt. HORRIBLE PLANT!

Nicole Imbeault
Nicole Imbeault (@guest_4910)
1 year ago

Are the seeds in the flower I would like to collect some for friends ?

Debbie Demarco
Debbie Demarco (@djd15235)
1 year ago

Hi. I am new to this site and enjoy it very much. My question is I have yews in front of my porch and would like some colorful perennials to plant in front of them.
Any suggestions? Also along the cement work around my pool I originally planted only green plants and now looking to add color there too. Once again I need suggestions. I just order 2 cone plants yesterday, would they work in either of those areas?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Debbie Demarco
1 year ago

Thanks for reading, Debbie! Where are you located? Our article on the best perennials for late summer color is a great place to start, with suggestions for a variety of growing zones.

When you say cone plants, I assume you mean echinacea (cone flower)? This perennial flower should work nicely to add some color to your green spaces. You can read more about growing it here.

Tina
Tina (@guest_6843)
6 months ago

Which part of the plant do the seeds come from? Mine have spread loads this year and I’d like to put some in other areas. Thanks for any help x

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Tina
5 months ago

Hi Tina!
Harvesting evening primrose seeds sounds like a fun project!
 
So after the flowers bloom, there will be green fruits left behind – these are the seed pods. They look something like little okras – at least that’s what they remind me of. 😁
 
They will be green at first, and then turn brownish as they start to dry out. Once they start to open, the seeds should be ready to harvest!

Josh
Josh (@guest_7237)
6 months ago

Poisonous to dogs

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Josh
5 months ago

Hi Josh! Thanks for looking out for everyone’s pets!   Is it possible you are thinking of a different primrose, Primula vulgaris, one that is sometimes used as a houseplant?   I did some checking and the ASPCA lists Primula vulgaris in their database of toxic and non-toxic plants as indeed being toxic to dogs and cats.   However, evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, isn’t in the ASPCA’s database (they don’t include ALL plants), but I found a reference to it in another source, the Clinical Veterinary Advisor.   The Clinical Veterinary Advisor lists evening primrose as having low toxicity to… Read more »

Sharon E. Boland
Sharon E. Boland (@guest_7449)
6 months ago

I planted an old packet of evening primrose seeds in my flower bed (just around the smaller wheel) about 5 years ago. They have taken over the entire bed. Each spring they’re such a source of beauty and delight I don’t have the heart to cull them. Although I tried to transplant some of them to my back yard, none have shown up in back, I’m thinking probably too much shade back there.

20200520_083709.jpg
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Sharon E. Boland
5 months ago

Hi Sharon,
I think you’re right. Evening primrose does best in full sun. These plants can tolerate partial shade too, but if your backyard is also the north side of your house, I’m guessing its probably deep shade. But boy does your patch in the photo look amazing! They certainly like it there!

Judy Skelly
Judy Skelly (@guest_7800)
6 months ago

I have had common evening primrose in my garden for several years and I love them! This year the leaves are looking yellowish and sad. I don’t know what is causing this, any suggestions? Many thanks.

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Judy Skelly
5 months ago

Hi Judy! I’m so sorry to hear that your evening primroses aren’t looking as happy as usual.   Let’s see if we can troubleshoot this together.   Are your plants getting more water than usual? Or less?   Has anything changed near the bed where they are planted? Has a nearby tree grown taller? Or has a nearby tree been cut down? Or anything else that has dramatically changed the amount of sun they are getting?   Is it possible the drainage has changed where they’re planted – such as from any nearby installations, digging, new beds, etc?   If… Read more »

Carl Lozito
Carl Lozito (@guest_7982)
5 months ago

Hi…..we have a yellow evening primrose in a large pot. It looks great and it is twice the size when we got it 2 months ago. I deadbeat it after the blooms close up. Should I control this plant or let it go?
Will it climb a trellis? It’s about 18 inches high and two feet wide. Where would I cut it if I had to? We live in SC.
Thank you.

Laura Melchor
Laura Melchor (@lauramelchor)
Member
Reply to  Carl Lozito
5 months ago

Hi Carl! Thank you for reading. It sounds like you’ve got a healthy plant on your hands, which is wonderful. If you want to keep it in the pot, I’d continue to dead-head it and trim off some fresh flowers as well to prune it back a bit into whatever shape you desire (I like to do this with flowers from my flowerbed — I put them in vases indoors after pruning!). Just leave plenty of buds and leaves so the plant can stay healthy.   If you’d rather let the plant go, you can definitely try training it up… Read more »

Jeannie Romano
Jeannie Romano (@guest_8123)
5 months ago

mine bloom starting early in morning, always beautiful, will be ordering seed for different colors….

IMG_1667.JPG
Yolanda Anderson
Yolanda Anderson (@guest_8280)
5 months ago

I believe I have the common evening primrose. This is maybe the third year since I planted them. All the stems fall completely over and they have never grown tall/straight up although the stems are long. Would there be an explanation why?

Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller (@rellihcsnan)
Admin
Member
Reply to  Yolanda Anderson
5 months ago

Hello Yolanda –

To avoid leggy plants, cut all the dead stems to the ground at the end of the growing season. Alternatively, you may wait until early spring to cut down the previous year’s growth.

During the growing season, prune stems after they finish blooming, to invigorate plants and encourage compact growth.

If your plants are in mid-bloom and are falling over, stake them now, and then cut them back after blooming.

Carol
Carol (@guest_8616)
4 months ago

I bought an evening primrose seedling this spring and planted it by my mailbox. It has grown into a giant with octopus arms! I’m really not happy with it where it is, but not sure about the best way to trim or transplant it elsewhere.

IMG_4151.JPG
Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller (@rellihcsnan)
Admin
Member
Reply to  Carol
4 months ago

Hi Carol – To help keep evening primrose trim and compact, you may prune it to the ground in the fall, post-bloom. Alternatively, you may wait until spring, and cut down last year’s stems before the growing season gets underway. Even with pruning, some plants may grow as tall as six feet. There are smaller cultivars that you may prefer for the mailbox placement. Evening primrose doesn’t always take transplanting well. Some folks say that young plants are best moved in spring, while older ones can be deadheaded and moved in fall. At this point, stake the stems, let them… Read more »

Patricia Meuse
Patricia Meuse (@guest_9647)
2 months ago

I have what looks to be evening primrose plants that are just growing wild in front of my picture window. I think some of them may even be taller than 6 feet. I do love the yellow flowers. Since it is September, should I wait until the flowers all die before I cut them back and how much should I cut? Have no idea where they came from.

Mary E.
Mary E. (@guest_10154)
1 month ago

How can you use evening primrose plant internally.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Mary E.
1 month ago

Herbalists use evening primrose for a variety of indications, using different parts of the plant to make teas, tinctures, oils, poultices, salves, and tonics. The essential fatty acids in the oil can help to relieve inflammation, and it’s sometimes recommended to help alleviate the symptoms of skin conditions like eczema.

Always consult an experienced herbalist or other health care practitioner before beginning any new health care regimens that involve taking plants from the garden internally.