Vitaliana primuliflora:
The Perfect Alpine
by Kristl Walek

A great plant gives us pleasure, thrives in our garden, reliably returns each year and does not ask more of us than we can give. When that plant is also beautiful; when one is hard pressed, in fact, to find any fault with it whatsoever, it becomes a perfect plant.

Vitaliana is a one-species genus in the primula family native to the Alps and Pyrenees and named after the Italian botanist, Vonati Vitaliano (1717-1762). The species name, primuliflora refers to the kinship of its flowers to primula.

Throughout its long history in cultivation it has been assigned by academics to various genera, including Androsace, Douglasia, Gregoria and Primula. The prickly-appearing foliage is certainly reminiscent of a Douglasia, although the flowers are primula-like. It was once known as the “Golden Primrose.”

In Lincoln Foster’s Rock Gardening (1968) the plant was still known as Douglasia vitaliana and described as follows…”the blossoms are buttercup-yellow and quite stemless, sitting solitarily but thickly, close down on the bun of small linear leaves, gray with fine hairs.”

Foster forgot to mention the lovely fragrance and the fact that the low, spreading mats are beautiful all season long. When he states that the flowers “sit… thickly”, he intends to say that the plant is smothered in bloom for weeks in early spring.

Vitaliana primuliflora prefers full sun and a well-drained spot. It apparently avoids limestone in the wild, although one would not need to know this in cultivation. Bloom begins very, very early, just after the most precocious of the Draba and Saxifrages have flowered.

This perfect plant is choice, but not temperamental. It looks difficult, but is easy to establish and please. It does not need to be coaxed to bloom and survives both –45°C winters and humid, smoldering summers.

And if one is really hard pressed to find fault with the plant it would be its reticence to set seed in cultivation. This can however be easily overcome by taking cuttings early in the spring, before flowering. These will be ready to set out by mid summer.