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Oxlip (Primula elatior)

A rare plant, its display of yellow flowers can be seen in woodlands in certain areas of East Anglia.

Common name: oxlip

Scientific name: Primula elatior

Family: Primulaceae

What does oxlip look like?

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 the same direction. The light green tube-shaped calyx has darker green midribs. Flowers grow in one-sided clusters.

Fruit: capsule with seeds inside.

Not to be confused with...

Cowslip (Primula veris): this species can easily be confused with oxlips but they have flowers which are deeper yellow in colour, and they do not all face the same direction. Leaves of this species are very similar in shape but are said to 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): a hybrid of cowslip and primrose this species grows around the same height as oxlips but has flower clusters which are not one-sided.

Where and when to find oxlip

Where: present only in some areas of East Anglia, such as parts of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, they will grow in open woodland areas, and favour clay soils.

When: a perennial which flowers from March to May.

Value to wildlife

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

Uses and folklore

Medicine: oxlips were traditionally used to treat coughs and rheumatism, and they were thought to have antibacterial qualities.

Poetry: a beautiful flower, it has been mentioned in poems such as ‘The Talking Oak’, by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.