The Auricula (20th September 2017)

The Auricula -Luci Skinner of Woottens Plants… Luci is a co-owner and manager of Woottens of Wenhaston. Auricula are a particular speciality of Woottens. They have some of the largest collections of Irises, Pelargoniums, Auricula and Hemerocalis in the UK. 75% of the stock is propagated on site. Woottens have some very rare plants, some of which originated in the 1700s.

Woottens comprises a tight workforce of 7 people. Everyone has their own speciality. The person working on Auricula has to divide about 40,000 plants in the next 2 months.

The modern Auricula is a man-made plant. It has been derived from a natural variety of genus Primula but what we now see is the result of several hundred years of selective breeding, originally called floriculture. The people who did this were known as ‘florists’. Luci explained the detailed botanical terms used to describe the anatomy of the plant.

Around 40,000 hybrids of present-day Auricula have been developed from only three species of Primula: Primula hirsuta, Primula auricula, Primula x pubescens.

They were named by Linnaeus, based on the then common name of ‘Bear’s ears’. They originate from the Alps in France, Switzerland and Germany, They have been collected and documented since the 1400s, beginning in Germany. Gerard describes Auricula as a treatment for vertigo in his herbal of 1597. The first striped Auricula was introduced in 1640, followed by the first ‘double’ Auricula in 1665, Breeding finally produced the true breakthrough of the ‘edged’ Auricula in 1757. 200 cultivars were documented in 1816. Breeding became competitive and shows and exhibits grew in popularity across the country, In Victorian time show plants were displayed in lamp lit ‘Theatres’.

Luci outlined the exacting criteria for success or failure in showing Auriculas. There are 7 groups of Auricula that can be shown: Selfs, Alpines, Stripes, Doubles, Edges, Fancies and Borders. She went on to describe the necessary characteristics of the plant for successful breeding, and the process of breeding itself. Once seeds have been produced, they can take anything from 2 weeks to 6 months to germinate. Patience is essential!

Primulas need quite specific growing media. They like heavy loam based soils with good drainage. To grow in containers, use 50% medium peat or substitute, 25% horticultural grit and 25% loam. Additions of lime to alkalinise the soil and a slow release fertiliser (not too high in Nitrogen) are recommended. They need to be kept dry and well ventilated in the winter time and do not like direct heat. In the summer time, place containers in an East- or North-facing position so they are cool, shaded and ventilated. Never over water them, and repot them in late summer.

Seed will germinate in a cool environment. It takes 2-3 years to go from seed to flowering. Propagate by the vegetative method of division.

Amongst their regular open days, Woottens hold an Auricula Open Day on the last Saturday in April -free entry, and also offer training courses.

Questions and answers rounded off an excellent and fascinating talk.

See https://www.woottensplants.com for more information. Their auriculas page is very informative and expands on the material documented here about this talk.