Common Evening Primrose

Oenothera biennis

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Photo of common evening primrose, closeup of flowers.
The flowers of common evening primrose are light yellow, with 4 rounded petals, and subtended by narrow, recurved bracts.
Jim Rathert
Edible
Family

Onagraceae (evening primroses)

Description

A robust, much-branched, leafy biennial, growing as a rosette of leaves the first year, and sending up a flowering stalk, then dying, the next. Flowers several to many in terminal racemes, light yellow, 4-petaled, subtended by narrow, recurved bracts. The petals are rounded. Blooms June–October. Leaves alternate, sessile or with very short petioles, lanceolate, light green, with insignificant teeth or without, to 6 inches long.

Similar species: Missouri has about 22 species of Oenothera. This is the most common and widespread of them, and it is very variable in form.

Size

Height: to 6 feet (including the flowering stalk).

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Photo of common evening primrose plants blooming in a field.
Common Evening Primrose
Common evening primrose is the most common and widespread evening primrose in Missouri.

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Photo of common evening primrose, basal rosette of first-year leaves.
Common Evening Primrose (First-Year Leaves)
Common evening primrose is a biennial plant, growing as a rosette of basal leaves the first year, and flowering, then dying, the next.

Common Evening Primrose

Yellow flowers on green stalks with unopened flower buds. The plants are covered in dew.
Common Evening Primrose in Taney County
Habitat and conservation

Openings and edges of upland forests, edges of bottomland forests, glades, bluffs, prairies, marshes, sand prairies, banks of streams and rivers, ditches, pastures, fields, mine spoils, gardens, railroads, roadsides, and other open, disturbed areas. It is most noticeable late in the season, when it reaches its greatest height and the flowers at the top are most visible. Like other evening primroses, this species usually opens its flowers in the evening and subtly perfumes the night air.

image of Common Evening Primrose distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Common statewide.

Human connections

Many people cultivate this plant in their gardens, and horticultural selections with much larger flowers are being developed. Oils from this species have been, and still are used for a variety of medicinal applications. Young leaves and first-year roots can be cooked and eaten.

Ecosystem connections

Like most other night-blooming plants, night-flying animals are the chief pollinators. In this case, it is moths, especially sphinx moths. On cloudy mornings, when the flowers stay open, hummingbirds and bees and other insects visit, too. Several moth caterpillars and other insects eat the leaves.