Primula auricula, also known as auriculas, bear’s ears, or mountain cowslips, have long attracted both botanists and home gardeners with their lovely blooms and cultivars that grow in a seemingly infinite range of colors. These hardy perennials offer a bright splash in the spring, and sometimes winter, landscape. Native to alpine slopes and Central Europe, the Victorians treasured these lovely flowering plants; in the language of flowers, auriculas hold the symbolic meaning of “deserved merit.”

Auricula Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials

To the Victorians, auriculas were symbolic of “deserved merit.” The perennials, which grow in a stunning array of colors, feature in art and writing from the era. Notably, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre uses “purple Auriculas” to symbolize Jane’s feelings of hope at leaving behind an oppressive childhood.

About Auricula Flowers

About Auricula Flowers

Auricula – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Primula auricula flowers belong to the family Primulaceae. Recently, P. auricula and P. lutea were split into two species, delineated by their native region. There are about 500 species in the Primula genus, which includes primroses and cowslips, with a natural habitat that stretches from alpine meadows to swampy lowlands.

Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances

Auriculas are herbaceous, flowering perennials with simple leaves. The leathery foliage grows in a basal rosette pattern. Plants reach up to 18 inches tall.

Auricula flowers may be solitary or grow in umbrels or whorls. Some flowers have a coating of farina, a substance that looks a bit like white or yellow cornmeal. Thanks to decades of cultivation, auricula’s fragrant come in a wide range of colors, from purple to yellow, white to dark green.

History & Origins of Auricula Flowers

Some believe that auricula first made their way to England in the late 17th century when the Huguenots fled France. Other traditions say that the flowers first entered Britain in the 16th century, brought by Flemish weavers as they fled the Continent.

Auricula was grown in the Spitalfields area of London and were very popular in Northern England, where they were called “cowslips” or “bear’s ears.” Weavers in the region, especially those of Flemish ancestry, embraced auricula cultivation from the 1600s through the 1900s.

No matter where auriculas originally from, the Victorians embraced these lovely blossoms and included them in their floral lexicon.

Popular Auricula Types, Species, and Cultivars

Botanists and gardeners have long loved auricula, creating hundreds of cultivars over the past 500 years. Flowers range widely across the color spectrum and grow in multiple forms, which are categorized into several different types:

  • “Show Selfs” are a single, solid color (usually red, yellow, or purple) with a band of white farina.
  • “Fancy Shows” may be striped or edged and usually contain black, white, or gray colors.
  • “Double” auricula have white farina and bloom with multiple petals of green, tan, mustard, buff, mustard, or mauve.
  • “Alpine” have cabbage-like clumps of foliage and domed flowers on erect stems
  • “Border” are the easiest to grow in the home garden and bloom with sweet-smelling flowers

Common cultivars include:

  • ‘Adrian’ is an Alpine auricula with purple petals edged with lilac
  • ‘Ancient Society’ has red petals with orange tips and a golden center
  • ‘Cinnamon’ has copper-orange double flowers
  • ‘Eden Greenfinch’ is a border auricula with tan flowers and white centers
  • ‘Larry’ blooms with purple and lilac flowers with white centers
  • ‘Sirius’ has petals that shade from deep mahogany to cream at the tips, with a golden center

Etymological Meaning

“Auricula” comes from the Medieval Latin auricularis, which pertains to hearing (as in “hearing a confession”). These flowers are thought to be so named due to their ear-shaped form; one of their common names is “bear’s ears.”

What Regions are Auricula Flowers Native To?

Auricula flowers are native to Central Europe and mountainous regions such as the Swiss Alps and the Italian Dolomites. They thrive in cool alpine climates.

When are Auricula Flowers in Season?

Most auricula plants bloom in spring, though some types may bloom again in fall or winter. While blooming, many gardeners try to keep rain off the flowers so as not to damage the farina.

Uses and Benefits of Auricula Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Auricula Flowers

In herbalism and medicine, auricula flowers have been used to treat coughs and headaches. Gerarde’s ‘Herball’, published in 1597, notes that auricula foliage can help stop bleeding by constricting blood vessels.

In medieval Germany, auricula was known as the “giddiness plant.” There, herbalists found auricula useful for “strengthening the head when at height.”

Auricula can be toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Ingestion may lead to vomiting or intestinal distress. Auricula isn’t known to be toxic to humans, though contact with farina may cause skin irritation, so it’s best to handle the plants while wearing gloves.

In the garden, auricula attracts bees and other pollinators with their colorful flowers and sweet fragrance.

Auricula Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Auricula Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Auricula bloom in a virtual rainbow of colors, thanks to years of cultivation and cross-breeding. Blossoms range from dark burgundy and purple to creamy white and bright yellow. Some cultivars boast unusual hues, such as matte green, buff, and mustard yellow. Many types feature petals of more than one color, with differently hued centers or edging.

In the language of flowers, auricula symbolize “deserved merit.”

The Cultural Significance of Auricula Flowers

The Cultural Significance of Auricula Flowers

To the Victorians, auricula flowers represented deserved merit, imparting a sense of worthiness. This theme is present in the literature of the era, such as Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre. Auriculas feature in a passage that describes Jane’s state of mind as she sees light at the end of the tunnel, as her time at the oppressive Lowood School draws to an end: “flowers peeped out amongst the leaves; Snowdrops, Crocuses, purple Auriculas and golden-eyed Pansies.”

Along with the achievement symbolized by auricula blossoms, pansies stand for thoughtfulness and reflection, crocuses for youth, and snowdrops for hope. Passages such as this clearly illustrate how the language of flowers sends a powerful message.

Auricula featured in European art of the same era. Belgian illustrator Pierre-Joseph Redoute, known as the “Raphael of flowers”, created botanical prints featuring P. auricula. Today, modern artist Georgie Hopton, whose work is exhibited at the Tate, often features auriculas in her work.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Auricula Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Auricula Flowers

Given auricula flowers’ association with deserved merit, these blooms make an ideal floral gift to say “Congratulations” or “Job Well Done.” They’re perfect for a graduate, a promotion, or other commemorative occasions.

The auricula’s range of colors and pleasant fragrance also makes them a good choice to give as a potted plant. Traditionally, they’re grown in terracotta pots, which makes them easy to gift.

Keep them looking fresh by avoiding over-watering and removing dead flower heads. Keep auricula plants in a cool, partially shaded spot, and avoid letting the flowers or feet stay wet.

For more, see our comprehensive guide to fresh-cut flower care.

Wrap Up

Auricula’s association with deserved merit makes them an ideal floral gift when congratulations are due, or when a major life transition is underway. These lovely perennials offer a range of blossom hues and shapes that add texture and color to your landscape or container garden.

Auricula Flower FAQ

“Border” and “alpine” auricula tend to be easier to grow than “Show” or “Double” varieties. Auricula thrive in partially shaded spots with rich, well-drained soil and require division every two to three years.

Remove blossoms after flowering, but leave the stem in place.

Auriculas thrive in an alpine environment, which translates to a preference for partially shaded exposures and cooler temperatures.

In the language of flowers, auriculas symbolize deserved merit.

Auricula flowers have a sweet, pleasant scent that some compare to honey.

Petal Republic’s Flower and Plant Guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert flower guides to Roses, Asphodel, Valerian, Astrantia, Viburnum, Acanthus, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Borage, Clovers, Freesia, Marjoram, Anemone, Begonia, Orchids, Allium, Carnations, Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  


Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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