Settling the primrose-buttercup debate

Published 7:30 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

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Every spring I look forward to the appearance of primroses, my favorite wildflowers. Those small delicate looking pink blooms with a yellow center are a source of delight to me.

Apparently they thrive in poor dirt because clumps of them grow profusely along roadsides and near railroad tracks. Primroses nod their heads from banks of weeds here and there. Some really healthy-looking ones grew nestled among tall Johnson grass across the road from the Southern Railroad depot in the community where I lived.

Sometimes I picked a few of them and put them a jar of water, but they almost immediately bowed their little heads and wilted away. The first ones I saw this spring were growing close to a railroad track in the same place where they appeared last year.

If my memory serves me right they usually arrive after beautiful crimson clover completes its life span prancing along the roadsides leaving traces of brown plants and seeds.

One day not too long after we were married my husband and I were riding down a dusty country road when I pointed out a big cluster of primroses to him.

“Primroses?” he asked.

“Yes, those pretty little pink flowers with a yellow center. They are Primroses.”

“No they’re not. They are buttercups.”

“No, not buttercups. Primroses,” I answered curtly.

He said he remembered buttercups well from his school days. He and other mischievous little boys used to pick them and hold them out to their favorite girls to smell. As soon as the girls touched the flowers to their faces, the boys jammed the buttery centers next to their noses and ran away laughing at the yellow smudges they left on the girls’ faces.

“That’s why they are called buttercups,” he said.

Every spring the buttercup-primrose subject came up. “Primroses,” I said. “Buttercups,” he said.

After we started walking nature trails in campgrounds, we bought a wildflower book to identify some of the plants we saw. Imagine our surprise when I found the fragile-looking little pink plant in that book and learned that both names are appropriate.

When I wrote about primroses-buttercups in a column years ago, I received a note from the late Joseph Wingard, a popular Andalusia English teacher and a friend, who took no sides. He did some research and his pronouncement was as follows: Both names were correct.

I always knew I was right. They were primroses. My husband always knew he was right. They were buttercups.

Despite the fact that either name is correct, neither of us gave an inch. I still call them primroses. He never stopped calling them buttercups.

Every spring I remember our “primrose-buttercup” difference with a smile. The next time you see a bunch of wildflowers with pink blooms and yellow centers growing where weeds thrive, take a minute or so to admire their beauty. They are probably primroses, or if you prefer, buttercups.