Common Evening Primrose

Photo of common evening primrose, closeup of flowers.
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Scientific Name
Oenothera biennis
Onagraceae (evening primroses)

Common evening primrose is a robust, much-branched, leafy biennial, growing as a rosette of leaves the first year, and sending up a flowering stalk, then dying, the next. Flowers several to many in terminal racemes, light yellow, 4-petaled, subtended by narrow, recurved bracts. The petals are rounded. Blooms June–October. Leaves alternate, sessile or with very short petioles, lanceolate, light green, with insignificant teeth or without, to 6 inches long.

Similar species: Missouri has about 22 species of Oenothera. This is the most common and widespread of them, and it is very variable in form.


Height: to 6 feet (including the flowering stalk).

Where To Find
image of Common Evening Primrose distribution map

Common statewide.

Openings and edges of upland forests, edges of bottomland forests, glades, bluffs, prairies, marshes, sand prairies, banks of streams and rivers, ditches, pastures, fields, mine spoils, gardens, railroads, roadsides, and other open, disturbed areas. It is most noticeable late in the season, when it reaches its greatest height and the flowers at the top are most visible. Like other evening primroses, this species usually opens its flowers in the evening and subtly perfumes the night air.

Many people cultivate this plant in their gardens, and horticultural selections with much larger flowers are being developed. Oils from this species have been, and still are used for a variety of medicinal applications. Young leaves and first-year roots can be cooked and eaten.

Like most other night-blooming plants, night-flying animals are the chief pollinators. In this case, it is moths, especially sphinx moths. On cloudy mornings, when the flowers stay open, hummingbirds and bees and other insects visit, too. Several moth caterpillars and other insects eat the leaves.

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Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!