Oenotheras, also known as Evening Primrose, are spreading or clumping groundcovers, native to the plains, grasslands and deserts of North America. They have large, showy four-petaled flowers in pink, white, or yellow, and create carpets of bright color in desert landscapes. Oenotheras are generally night-blooming plants, but most will stay open until midday.
These widely adapted plants can be used in a variety of landscape situations from full sun to light shade. They are especially attractive when used in groupings and as a groundcover or color accent under desert trees such as Palo Verdes or mesquites. Evening primroses blend well with other perennial wildflowers. All types of evening primroses produce seeds that are a rich source of food for desert songbirds. The flowers attract nocturnal wildlife.
Oenothera Berlandieri, Mexican Evening Primrose (also sold as Oenotherea Speciosa)
The most common form of Mexican evening primrose has 1 ½ inch bright pink flowers that open in the early morning and can remain open throughout the day. This variety blooms profusely in the early spring, and can continue to flower throughout the warm season with adequate irrigation. Mexican evening primrose spreads quickly and is useful for stabilizing soil on banks or slopes. It should be used with caution in areas near irrigated beds where it could become invasive. Rangy, overgrown, or frost damaged plants can be cut to the ground. While the foliage can burn in the low 20s, regrowth occurs quickly from underground stems (rhizomes). Watch for infestations of flea beetle in spring and fall, which can be easily controlled with an appropriate organic insecticide if necessary.
Oenothera Caespitosa, White-tufted Evening Primrose
The exceptionally large, showy and fragrant flowers of the white-tufted evening primrose open in the evening and remain open throughout the night, closing when the sun reaches them in the morning. The lance-shaped blue-green leaves form a compact clump. This low growing accent is especially attractive when planted where it can be viewed from a porch or patio during the evening or early morning hours. This plant appreciates well drained soil and prefers partial shade in low desert areas. Oenothera caespitosa is short lived but reseeds readily and should be used as an accent plant and treated as a perennial wildflower.
Oenothera Stubbei, Saltillo Evening Primrose
Rosettes of bright green foliage and contrasting 2 inch yellow flowers adorn this attractive groundcover, which spreads from long, above-ground runners that root where they can touch the soil. Flowers open in the evening, and can last until late morning. Plant in areas where they can be easily viewed and enjoyed while in bloom. This non-invasive species gives a lush oasis effect and requires more supplemental water than other types of evening primroses. Saltillo evening primrose tolerates most exposures, and prefers well drained soils. During the cold winter months, the foliage will turn a deep red color, and tolerates the cool season well.
Did you know that up to 70% of water use is outdoors? That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. It’s still a great time to plant, and you can learn more about the Evening Primrose and other plants on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page. Visit our page on Choosing and Planting Low Water-Use Plants for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly.
This feature is based on a concept and text originally developed jointly by the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) with partial funding from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Learn more about these and other great desert plants at the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert plant database.