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Primula elatior

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Primulaceae (Primrose)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Gardens, hedgerows, meadows, woodland.

Yellow, 5 petals
Flowers appear inside one-sided nodding clusters at the top of a single erect stem. The flower is yellow with a dark centre. Each flower measures about 1 inch (2.5cm) across. Pollinated by bees, butterflies and moths.
The fruit is a capsule. The seeds ripen in July and August.
The dark green leaves are all basal. They are oval to oblong and crinkled. Erect stems. Perennial.
Other Names:
Bardfield Oxlip, Great Cowslip, True Oxlip.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Primula elatior, also known as the oxlip, is a perennial plant in the primrose family that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that typically grows to a height of 15-30 cm. It has glossy green leaves and flowers that are typically yellow or white. The flowers are typically borne in clusters on tall stems in late spring or early summer. It is often grown in gardens as an ornamental plant, and it is also used in traditional medicine.


Oxlip, also known as Primula elatior, is a species of flowering plant belonging to the Primulaceae family. It is a native plant of Europe and can be found in damp meadows, deciduous forests, and on the banks of streams and rivers. Oxlip has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and is also cultivated as an ornamental plant.


Oxlip is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows up to 30 cm tall. It has a rosette of oval or lance-shaped leaves that are hairy and toothed at the edges. The flowers of Oxlip are borne on long stalks and are bell-shaped with five petals. The flowers range in color from pale yellow to deep orange and are arranged in clusters at the top of the stem.


Oxlip is a popular garden plant, and there are several cultivars available for purchase. The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade. It can be propagated by dividing the rootball in the fall or by sowing seeds in the spring. Oxlip is a hardy plant and can survive in temperatures as low as -30°C.


Oxlip has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, coughs, and bronchitis. The plant contains several compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, including phenolic acids and flavonoids.

Oxlip is also used in cosmetics and perfumes. The plant has a sweet, floral scent that is popular in fragrances. Oxlip extract is added to some skincare products for its moisturizing and soothing properties.


Oxlip is listed as a species of conservation concern in some parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom. The plant has declined in numbers due to changes in land use, such as the conversion of meadows to agricultural land. In some areas, Oxlip has hybridized with other species of Primula, which has also contributed to its decline.

Efforts are underway to conserve Oxlip populations, including the creation of protected areas and the reintroduction of the plant to areas where it has disappeared. Gardeners can also help by cultivating Oxlip in their gardens and avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Oxlip is a member of the genus Primula, which contains over 400 species of flowering plants. The scientific name of Oxlip is Primula elatior, with elatior meaning "taller" or "more elevated" in Latin. The plant was first described by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753.


Oxlip is native to Europe, where it can be found in the wild from Portugal and Spain in the west to Russia in the east. The plant is also cultivated in other parts of the world, including North America and Asia.


Oxlip is an important plant for many species of insects, including bees and butterflies, which feed on its nectar and pollen. The plant is also a host plant for the caterpillars of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly (Hamearis lucina) and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly (Boloria euphrosyne). These butterflies are threatened species in Europe and rely on the presence of Oxlip in their habitats.

In addition to its ecological importance, Oxlip is also an indicator species for certain types of grassland habitats. The presence of Oxlip in a meadow or forest indicates that the area has been relatively undisturbed and has a healthy soil moisture balance.

Cultural Significance

Oxlip has been featured in literature and folklore for centuries. In Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the character Oxlip is mentioned in a song sung by the fairy queen Titania. The plant has also been used in traditional medicine and is mentioned in several herbal remedies dating back to the Middle Ages.

In addition to its cultural significance, Oxlip has also been used in culinary applications. The leaves of the plant are edible and have a slightly sweet taste. They can be used in salads or as a garnish, and were historically used as a flavoring in beer before the widespread use of hops.


Oxlip has a unique reproductive strategy in which it can hybridize with two other species of Primula: Primula veris (cowslip) and Primula vulgaris (primrose). The resulting hybrids are known as Primula x polyantha or "false oxlip." These hybrids can be difficult to distinguish from Oxlip, as they share many characteristics such as flower color and shape. However, false oxlip can be distinguished from Oxlip by its leaves, which are usually more pointed.

In addition to the natural hybridization between these species, hybridization can also occur between cultivated varieties of Primula, resulting in a wide range of hybrid forms.

Traditional Medicine

Oxlip has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in the treatment of respiratory ailments such as coughs and bronchitis. The plant contains several compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antitussive properties, including saponins and polysaccharides.

In addition to its respiratory benefits, Oxlip has also been used to treat headaches, digestive problems, and skin conditions. The plant has a calming and soothing effect on the body, making it a popular remedy for anxiety and stress.

Modern Research

Recent research has focused on the medicinal properties of Oxlip and its potential as a source of new drugs. One study found that an extract of Oxlip flowers had a strong antioxidant activity and could potentially be used to prevent or treat diseases related to oxidative stress.

Another study found that an extract of Oxlip leaves had antimicrobial properties and could be effective against certain types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. This suggests that Oxlip could be a useful natural alternative to synthetic antibiotics.

Conservation Status

Oxlip populations have declined in many parts of Europe due to habitat loss and fragmentation. The plant is listed as a Species of European Concern and is protected under the European Union's Habitats Directive. It is also included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority species for conservation.

Conservation efforts have focused on restoring and creating suitable habitats for Oxlip, such as traditional hay meadows and woodland clearings. In some areas, populations have been established through the reintroduction of plants grown from seed collected from local populations.

Gardening and Cultivation

Oxlip is a popular garden plant, valued for its early spring bloom and attractive flowers. The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade, making it well-suited for woodland gardens and other shaded areas. It can also be grown in containers, provided that the soil remains consistently moist.

Propagation is typically done through seed, although divisions can also be taken from mature plants in the fall. Oxlip seeds require a period of cold stratification before they will germinate, making fall sowing the best option for most gardeners.

Culinary Uses

In addition to its use in traditional medicine, Oxlip has a long history of culinary use. The leaves and flowers of the plant are edible and can be used in salads, teas, and other culinary preparations. The flowers have a mild, sweet flavor and can be used as a garnish or added to desserts.

Oxlip has also been used in the production of beer and other alcoholic beverages. In the Middle Ages, the plant was commonly used as a flavoring in beer before the widespread use of hops.

Overall, Oxlip is a versatile and valuable plant with many cultural, ecological, and medicinal uses. As we continue to learn more about this fascinating plant, we can appreciate its many contributions to our world and work to protect and preserve its populations for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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