Primrose, cowslip, and a hybrid

I have planted and encouraged various wildflowers in our front garden over the years, including primrose and cowslip, then a couple of years ago I noticed this intermediate form flowering next to the other two species.  Such hybrid plants are sometimes called the false oxlip due to their similarity to the true oxlip.  ‘Primrose x cowslip’ hybrids are not uncommon in the wild in areas where both species grow in the same vicinty, though nature tends to keep the parent species apart as the cowslip occurs mainly on chalky alkaline soils, and the primrose on more acidic soils. 

Primrose left, hybrid 'primrose x cowslip' right, garden Westfield, RH 19 April 2012

Cowslip, garden Westfield, RH 19 April 2012

The true oxlip is rare in the wild, being restricted to woods in Essex mainly.  It is also, however, doing rather well (from seed) in our back garden where I took the next photo!   A good wildflower book will explain the botanical difference between the hybrid and oxlip.  But apart from the circumstantial evidence of where the plant is growing (such as next to its parents or in an Essex wood!), oxlip flowers have larger petals and also tend to hang in one direction only.   Ralph

Oxlips, garden Westfield, RH 22 April 2006

UPDATE –  Interesting Devon web page on these and other British Primula species, with details of how to tell the two common primrose flower types apart.

Leave a comment


  1. I’m all confused… Not by your post but by my flowers. At least I know I’m not mad – primrose and cowslip are part of the same family.

  2. Hello, I found your blog when I was trying to identify this flower I’m wondering if the plant in the photo could be an oxlip? It’s smaller than a primrose and very delicate.

    • Hi Ed, thanks for your comment. Your plant looks to me much more like a primrose x cowslip hybrid than an oxlip, though looking at the leaves it could even be a primrose x Polyanthus hybrid? Sorry I can’t be more definite!


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