Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Urocystis primulicola (bird’s-eye primrose smut)

Bird's-eye primrose smut, regarded as an extinct British fungus until its rediscovery in 2010, lives concealed inside its pink-flowered host, only attracting attention when it replaces the plant's seeds with masses of blackish smut spores.
Seed pods of Primula farinosa showing one broken to reveal a small heap of black spores of Urocystis primulicola in the base of the pod

Seed pods of Primula farinosa in September showing one broken in situ to reveal a small heap of black spores of Urocystis primulicola in the base of the pod (capsule). (Photo: Dr A. Martyn Ainsworth)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Urocystis primulicola Magnus

Common name: 

bird’s-eye primrose smut

Conservation status: 

Assessed as Extinct in Great Britain and the Isle of Man but following discovery in 2010 would now qualify for Critically Endangered status. Full information below.

Habitat: 

Establishes within living plants of Primula spp. (subgenus Aleuritia), specifically within the native P. farinosa bird’s-eye primrose in Britain.

Key Uses: 

None known.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: 
Fungi
Phylum: 
Basidiomycota
Subclass: 
Family: 
Urocystidaceae
Genus: Urocystis

About this species

Smuts are inconspicuous, specialist, microscopic fungi found inside living host plants. They usually remain hidden unless their dark powdery spore masses, characteristic of some species, are noticed in the flowers or other parts of ‘smutted’ plants. Some replace the host pollen with their spores. Others, including several causing important cereal crop diseases and bird’s-eye primrose smut, hijack the seed-producing parts (ovaries) resulting in smut spores instead of seeds.

This is a particularly neglected British smut because it only occurs on the scarce, pink-flowered bird’s-eye primrose, Primula farinosa. The smut species found on the yellow-flowered cowslip, oxlip and primrose is now distinguished as U. primulae.

To search for U. primulicola, bird’s-eye primrose seed-pods should be squeezed when the seeds are ripe and ready for dispersal (August or September). This distinguishes the healthy pods (capsules) with seeds from those harbouring the smut as, when squeezed, the latter leave a telltale dark powdery mass of spores on the fingers. The spores should then be checked under a microscope.

Synonym: 

Tuburcinia primulicola

Genus: 
Urocystis

main info

Courses at Kew

Students learn about plant taxonomy and identification

Kew offers a variety of specialist training courses in horticulture, conservation and plant science.

Why People Need Plants

image of book cover

A compelling book from Kew Publishing that explores the crucial role that plants play in the everyday lives of all of us.