Nothing “Common” About It

Posted By Wolf Ridge Naturalist
October 27, 2015


Have you ever been out on a walk and paused to notice something “cool?”  You stop to check out this tree, flower, rock, mushroom, or whatever it is that caught your attention. You whip out your handy field guide to try and identify this neat specimen only to find it referred to as “common”. This happens to us all the time! BUT, just because something is called “common” should not make it any less intriguing.

Take the Common Evening Primrose for example: This wildflower is found almost entirely throughout Minnesota living near streams and roads and on the edges of fields and forests. Its yellow flowers are in bloom beginning in July and continuing through October covering this native plant from bottom to top. Its olive to light green colored leaves are slightly rough to the touch due to a coat of small white hairs.

This still flowering plant caught our attention as we were out on the phenology walk Wolf Ridge Naturalists take at least every Tuesday morning. Nestled on the side of the gravel road was a single Common Evening Primrose with surprisingly bright yellow flowers blooming closer to the base of the steam and seed heads at the top.

Interest peaked we inquired about this flowering plant still blossoming in October. What we discovered was anything but ordinary. The Common Evening Primrose or Oenothera biennis acquired its name from its unique attribute of opening its flowers at night and closing them during the heat of the day. This creates an unusual situation surrounding its pollination. Unlike other Primroses, Hawk Moths and other nighttime butterflies and bees pollinate the Common Evening Primrose at night when its corolla is open. The Common Evening Primrose is unique for another reason too, its many medicinal properties. Several Native American tribes were known to use many different parts of the plants such as the roots, stems and leaves to treat bruises, improve muscle strength and treat pain. Today, Evening Primrose Oil is extracted from the seeds and is high in essential fatty acids which are attributed to helping with pain relief. Whether you use the Common Evening Primrose to cure what ails you or you just enjoy its beautiful yellow flowers along the roadside, this plant is anything but common.

By Kalina Pavlisich and Julia Luger