The Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a biennial plant native to North America and Canada. The term “biennial” indicates that it takes two years for the plant to complete its life cycle. During the first year it only grows foliage. In the second year, it will flower. (1)
The Evening Primrose aptly gets its name because it blooms in the evening. The flower will stay in full bloom overnight and then wilt the next day. Some other names for this plant include evening star, sundrop, fever plant, and King’s cure-all. (2) These last two names are a result of the Primrose’s medicinal properties.
The Evening Primrose has been used to treat a variety of alignments for many years. Indigenous people were the first to use the Primrose as a treatment for obesity and bowel pains. Recently, western medical research has explored the use of the Primrose’s seed oil to treat ailments including endogenous eczema, polyarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and menopausal symptoms. Although most of this research is inconclusive, there has been some indication that a supplement of Primrose oil can be beneficial for a variety of skin issues. (3)
The Evening Primrose was first introduced to Europe in the early 17th century as an ornamental plant.(2) Its strange behavior of blooming in the evening and then wilting before noon caught the attention of English poet John Clare. Clare, who died in 1864, is described as a romantic poet with an “admiration of nature”.(4) His poem titled “Evening Primrose” demonstrates his admiration and awareness of the natural world.
When once the sun sinks in the west,
And dewdrops pearl the evening's breast;
Almost as pale as moonbeams are,
Or its companionable star,
The evening primrose opes anew
Its delicate blossoms to the dew;
And, hermit-like, shunning the light,
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night,
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses,
Knows not the beauty it possesses;
Thus it blooms on while night is by;
When day looks out with open eye,
Bashed at the gaze it cannot shun,
It faints and withers and is gone.
(Poem cited from allpoetry.com)
“Evening Primrose” is the first poem I have read by John Clare and I appreciate his ability to capture the natural world in such an elegant way. I can see myself using some of his other works in the future, and after reading “The Yellowhammer’s Nest” I now want to go research this little bird.
What do you think about Clare’s poetry? Please share your thoughts below.