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Bird's-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinica)

Life history

Species overview

Bird's-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinica), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in neutral to calcareous rock splash pools and on stabilized dunes near the Great Lakes. It also occurs inland on moist sandstone cliffs. Blooming occurs early May through late June; fruiting occurs early June through late July. The optimal identification period for this species is late May through early June.

Synonyms: Primula intercedens, Primula mistassinica var. intercedens, Primula mistassinica var. mistassinica, Primula mistassinica var. noveboracensis


  • Distinguishing characteristics: This species is distinguished from similar species by its pale blue or white petals and glabrous scape and stem; bracts of the umbrella-shaped inflorescence 3 to 6 mm; calyx 3 to 6 mm.
  • Flower characteristics: Flowers 1 to 10; calyx 3 to 6 mm, lobed to about the middle; corolla-tube yellow, the limb containing water-soluble pigments (blue, purple, or red) but generally pale, seldom white, 1 to 2 cm wide.
  • Fruit characteristics: Capsule 5-valved at the tip.
  • Leaf characteristics: Oblanceolate or spatulate, 2 to 7 cm, with very small, outward-directed teeth along the margins, long-tapering to the base, smooth, but the lower side often densely covered with a white or yellow powder.


  • Blooming phenology: early May through late June
  • Fruiting phenology: early June through late July
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late May through early June


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Thuja occidentalis, Potentilla fruticosa, P. tridentata, Ledum groenlandicum, Pinguicula vulgaris, Parnassia glauca, Gentianopsis procera, Castilleja coccinea, Deschampsia cespitosa, Lobelia kalmii, Solidago canadensis.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Bird's-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinica). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Primula mistassinica in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in neutral to calcareous rock splash pools and on stabilized dunes near the Great Lakes. It also occurs inland on moist sandstone cliffs.
  • Soils: Gravelly, neutral to calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Bird's-eye Primrose. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Great Lakes Ridge and Swale 3
Moist Cliff 3
Bedrock Shore 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Bird's-eye Primrose. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.


Bird's-eye Primrose Photo.

Photo by Drew Feldkirchner, Wisconsin DNR.

Bird's-eye Primrose Photo.

Arctic primrose is disjunct from the boreal regions to the north. It grows in cold, moist microhabitats on the Door Peninsula, in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, and on a few cliffs in southwestern Wisconsin.

Photo by Drew Feldkirchner, Wisconsin DNR.

Bird's-eye Primrose Photo.

Photo by Drew Feldkirchner, Wisconsin DNR.

Bird's-eye Primrose Photo.

Photo by Thomas Meyer, Wisconsin DNR.

Bird's-eye Primrose Photo.

Photo © Robert H. Read.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition