Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: Oenothera biennis

Night blooming Common Evening Primrose is our Wildflower Wednesday star. This tall biennial is  found growing in fields, prairies, glades, thickets, waste ground, disturbed sites, and in other sunny medium to dry sites. While native to almost all the states it's found more often in the central and eastern US.

While researching the plant I noticed that it showed up on several state weed sites!  That's always disconcerting to a wildflower/native plant enthusiast, but, not all wildflowers are appreciated or valued by everyone.  Some might be put off by it's height or it's unremarkable foliage, neither bother me.  I find the yellow flowers that are still blooming when I walk the garden early in the morning to be quite charming.  I like catching their sweet lemony scent and watching the occasional bee or other pollinator visitor that's out that early.
The sweet lemon scent is designed to attract moths
At the top of the over six foot tall, hairy, olive green leafy stalk are the lemon-scented, bright-yellow, four-petaled flowers. Flowering begins in June on second year plants; the stalks continue growing throughout the season, so there are flowers until fall.

This plant can get tall, so plant it where it won't block other pretties, but, you can still enjoy the flower show. In my garden it's happily growing with Rudbeckia triloba, Silphium perfoliatum, Verbesena virginica and Asclepias syriaca. Use native grasses, Verbesinas, and/or Coreopsis to disguise the lower bare stalks.
Each flower has 4 petals, 4 reflexed sepals, 8 stamens and a prominent style with a cross-shaped stigma.
 Oenothera biennis takes 2 years to complete its life cycle, with basal leaves becoming established the first year, and flowering occurring the second. It's not difficult to have flowers every year, just save the seeds and keep planting them. You shouldn't have trouble collecting seed since each seed capsule makes at least a 100 tiny seeds.  Don't get too alarmed about all the seeds...they're an important goldfinch food.
Flowers open at dusk and generally wilt the following morning.
Wildlife value

Common evening primrose is open for the night shift. That's when the pollinating creatures of the night are out and about. Sphinx moths and other moths pollinate the flowers.

 Other visitors have included: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, honeybees, bumblebees, and the Primrose Miner Bee. These insects seek nectar, although some of the bees collect pollen. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage. This includes Endryas unio (Pearly Wood Nymph), Desmia funeralis (Grape Leaffolder Moth), Hyles lineata (White-Lined Sphinx), and Mompha eloisella (Momphid Moth; bores through stems). Various beetles feed on the foliage, including Popillia japonica (Japanese Beetle), Grahops pubescens (Leaf Beetle sp.), Altica fusconenea (Flea Beetle sp.), and several Curculio beetles. The seeds are eaten by goldfinches. (Illinois Wildflowers)

 Nancy Lawson, who blogs at The Humane Gardener says, "If I had the opportunity to rename the common evening primrose in a way that better reflects its value to the modern world, I would call it Moth Life Giver, Bee Brunch or maybe Goldfinch Candy, indicating the rich buffet every part of this plant provides to our wildlife."* I loved her description and if you follow the link I think you'll like what else she has to say!
The particulars:
Oenothera biennis
Common Name: common evening primrose
Type: Biennial herb. Taproot
Family: Onagraceae

Native Range: Evening Primrose can be found throughout most of the United States (some Rocky Mountain states are an exception) and Canada
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 7.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to September
Bloom Description: Yellow
Flower: Showy 
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Propagation Description: Sow unstratified seed in fall – stratified in spring. Tip cuttings can be taken in spring.
Seed Collection: Collect in Aug. to Nov. It is common to find 100 capsules on a plant and over 100 seeds in each capsule. Seeds can remain viable for more than 80 years if buried in soil.
Seed Treatment: Plant on top of soil, seeds need light to germinate.
Commercially Available: Seed isavailable
Wildlife value: Birds, Butterflies, moths, bees.
Tolerate: Drought
Comments: Young leaves, flowers, shoots and first year roots are edible. Research preparation before trying. The leaves and roots are thought to have a peppery taste. It's also cultivated for its oil, which contains some essential fatty acids (Omega-6 fatty acid, linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid). Source

I've come to appreciate scrappy native plants like Oenothera biennis that are often the first to show up in disturbed areas. They're automatically members of the rough and tumble wildflower club at Clay and Limestone. I wish that all the disturbed areas around the country could be repopulated with natives, but, too often the non native invasives arrive first. Count yourself lucky if the good guys show up!


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

Mr Linky stopped linking when I moved my blog to the secure https setting. please leave your link in the comments. Thanks and so sorry.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Awww, this is one native I just love, heck I love them all but this one is so cheerful. I love watching for those moths you mentioned. Trying to get a picture of them is a trial.

  2. This is one I am not familiar with. It sounds like a great one for the birds and bees and such. I enjoyed your photos, especially the ones with bees in flight. I didn't realize until after doing my post, that the plant I chose is also considered a weed by some.

    1. So many wildflowers are considered weeds...which is too bad. Most of the time it's an agricultural thing.

  3. I am having trouble getting my post on the list. Here is the link to it: https://acornergarden.blogspot.com/2018/08/august-2018-wildflower-wednesday.html

    1. Mr Linky stopped working when I moved my blog to https...the s being secure.

  4. I hate technology, but still use it all the time.
    Here is my link.



    1. Well now it seems to be working! TECHNOLOGY DRIVES ME CRAZY!!

  5. What a cool native. I'm not sure that I've seen it in my area but I'll be on the lookout now.

  6. That is a good one! Great for wildlife/pollinator value and it's so pretty, too. Happy Wildflower Wednesday, Gail!

  7. Evening Primrose is indeed a wonderful wildflower.
    Late in the evening, just before dark, if you are patient, you can be there at the exact moment the blooms open! A wonderful and amazing experience!
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  8. Evening primrose looked kind of 'weedy' before my garden filled out, but now it is just a lovely part of the meadow! The fall colour is a nice deep red. I love the idea of feeding moths, but have yet to see one on it myself. I wonder if my neighbours' penchant for way too much outdoor lighting at night has an effect? I've been contemplating a tactful way to broach the subject for a long while, but have never come up with something.

    1. tell your neighbour you can't sleep? (Or see the stars. Or nurture your moths)

  9. Another beautiful "weed". I have just a bit of the perennial O. fruticosa in the front garden. Not sure if it is a native.

  10. I grow the pink ones, not this yellow, but I didn’t realize the height difference! The pink is about one foot tall, beautiful and prolific, but small.

  11. Mr Linky seems to work if you refresh? I see my link when I hover.


  12. The evening primrose I see here is a weed. This one grows low to the ground and it volunteers on our neighbour's verge.

    Yours - tall, lemon-scented and feeding your wildlife sounds perfect.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson