Quick facts

Common names: oxlip, true oxlip

Scientific name: Primula elatior

Family: Primulaceae

Origin: native

Flowering season: April to May

Habitat: woodland

What does oxlip look like?

Oxlip is a small perennial plant of open woodland.

Leaves: dark green in colour and oval in shape with a wrinkled appearance. They grow in a basal rosette formation and have long stalks. The leaves are oval in shape with a rounded end but do not taper.

Flowers: pale yellow in colour, with five petals. The flowers open out widely and they tend to face in the same direction. The light green tube-shaped calyx has darker green midribs. Flowers grow in one-sided clusters.

Not to be confused with: cowslip (Primula veris) which can easily be confused with oxlips but they have deeper yellow flowers which don’t all face the same direction. Leaves are very similar in shape but taper and not stop abruptly like those of oxlip. Cowslips are also more common than oxlips and can be found across much of the UK. False oxlip (Primula veris x vulgaris) is a hybrid of cowslip and primrose which grows to the same height as oxlip but its flowers do not grow one-sided.

Oxlip whole plant

Credit: Imagebroker / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to find oxlip

Oxlip only grows in some areas of East Anglia and is rarely found outside of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex. It grows in damp woods and meadows, and favours nutrient-poor and calcium-rich soil. It is often associated with ancient woodland.

Value to wildlife

As an early flowering plant, oxlip provides nectar for early emerging bees and butterflies which will in turn pollinate the plant.

Oxlip flowers

Credit: Bernard Castelein / naturepl.com

Uses of oxlip

Oxlips were traditionally used to treat coughs and rheumatism. Its compounds may have antibacterial properties.

Threats and conservation

Oxlip is a nationally scarce species and is classed as near threatened in Britain.

There has been a steady reduction in the density of oxlip plants in woodland sites over the past centuries. Changes in climate, woodland management practices and intensities of deer grazing are all likely factors in its decline. Cowslip colonises new or secondary woodlands very slowly, so it is hoped that the protection and restoration of ancient and semi‐natural woodlands will help.

Did you know?

Oxlip is the county flower of Suffolk.