The original auricula, Primula auricula is a wild flower, normally yellow, found growing in alpine meadows in the mountains of Northern Europe.The present day 'Florists' auriculas have a long and fascinating history descending from a hybrid between 2 European alpine primulas, the Primula Auricula or bear's ear and Primula Hirsuta or European Alpine Primrose. Auriculas first appeared in European and English gardens around the mid-sixteenth century. The first known illustration of an auricula plant was that made for the manuscript of P. A. Michiel, who for some years was director of the botanic garden at Padua, Italy. A printed edition of this, I Cinque Libri di Planti, was published in 1940. In England John Gerard knew a few varieties in 1597 and by 1629 Parkinson was describing a much greater number.
There are two schools of thought as to how auriculas reached England .One is that they were introduced by Huguenot Flemish weavers fleeing religious persecution in the 1570s. However, at that time, these plants were still novelties and were grown only by the rich. The second school of thought which seems more plausable is that they arrived, as did most other flowers, by interchange between leading Continental and English plantsmen.Whichever it was, the auricula became a major craze and was grown by the rich and famous, as well as humbler folk, in great numbers and varieties during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. and were popular with artists.
The auricula was one of the great Florist's flowers, some of the others being anemone, ranunculi, tulips and carnations. The term ˜Florist" was originally applied in the 1600s to a person who grew plants for the sake of their decorative flowers rather than for any useful property the plant might have. The modern meaning of florist only came into being towards the end of the 19th century. The florists formed groups with like-minded people to meet and hold 'feasts'.
By the 19th century the florists groups were very popular with working class people in the industrial North and Midlands of England. They met in public houses to show off their tulips, auriculas, primulas and carnations and to weigh their giant gooseberries. Prizes at their shows were frequently copper kettles & the public houses would often hang a copper kettle outside on show days.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a movement developed against what were termed "artificial flowers" and florists flowers lost popularity, some disappearing completely.However the auricula still had its adherents although stripes disappeared and doubles became exceedingly rare.The auricula, however, retained a loyal following especially in the north of England, although Stripes vanished and Doubles became rare. Then a further blow was struck with the advent of the First World War when many of the named varieties vanished.Between the wars the auricula was kept in being by the auricula societies, and then after the second world war a recovery began that continues to this day. A large number of new varieties of both edged and self-coloured auriculas have been raised by the modern successors to the old florists. Striped auriculas have been re-introduced and more new doubles are exhibited each year, their current magnificence ows much to the dedicated breeders here in the United Kingdom
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