Wildflower Wednesday. Primula elatior- Oxlip

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

 Where the oxlips and the nodding violet grows’ .

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was very knowledgeable about wild flowers but he got it wrong about the oxlip, because it is confined to the eastern counties in England, and even here it is increasingly rare. It would never be on a dry bank with thyme because it likes moist meadows or woodland.

Like everything else, the beautiful oxlip is really early this year, it usually blooms in April.  So I set off with a complaining Pianist to find it. He was convinced it was going to rain which it did, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stop me. We are very lucky in Suffolk to have the remnants of ancient woodlands where this beautiful, but rare flower can still be found. It used to be common in woods and meadows but like so many wild flowers it has become rare with the loss of so much habitat. 97% of our meadows have been lost since the last war. Half of our ancient woodlands have disappeared. Fortunately, we have the Woodland Trust, and in Suffolk we have The Suffolk Wildlife Trust to care for our  pitifully few, remaining fragments of meadows and ancient woodlands.

On the way I was delighted to see this huge area of violets growing on the verge.


Further on there were some white ones.

There were many banks covered in primroses: Primula vulgaris.

We spotted  a pink one; there were no houses around so it can’t have been the result of hybridisation with garden varieties.


Further on we found a bank of cowslips: Primula veris.


This orange one was presumably a result of cross pollination with primroses in a nearby garden.


Sometimes primroses cross with cowslips and  the resulting plants are known as Primula veris x vulgaris: The False Oxlip. In areas where this happens the true oxlips disappear.

Finally we arrived at our destination: Bulls’s Wood.


This is one of the few woods where the oxlip thrives and can be found in abundance. There are no primroses  or cowslips in this wood for it to hybridise with.  The Suffolk Wildlife Trust carries out the centuries- old coppice management which allows light to reach the spring flowers. In the nearby Bradfield Woods this kind of wood management has been carried out since 1252. These are very ancient woodlands which have always been a valuable resource.


Piles of wood have been leftIMG_7171 for creatures to enjoy. This one has been here for a long time.

We came across a little pond on the way in.

IMG_7150I was surprised to see Marsh marigolds; Caltha Palustris out. When I was a child we used to call these May Blobs so it was a surprise to see them out in March.

There were carpets of wood anemones: Anemone nemorosa out in the wood.

I found a little clump of the dainty wood sorrel: Oxalis acetosella. ‘Acetosella’ means sour-tasting but who would want to eat such a dear little plant?

But what we had come to see was the delightful and rare oxlip: Primula elatior.

It has a long stalk like the cowslip but the flowers are primrose colour like  those of the primrose rather than deep yellow like those of the cowslip.  You can see that the umbel of flowers drops to one side only, unlike those of the false oxlip.

It used to be thought that the oxlip was a hybrid  between cowslips and primroses until the botanist and scientist; Henry Doubleday studied it in 1842. He was convinced that it was not a hybrid. He sent some seeds to Charles Darwin who tested it and wrote a paper  confirming that it is a true species.

It is a beautiful plant and so rare that it is classified as ‘near threatened’ in the Red Data List for plants. We are very lucky in Suffolk that we still have a few woods where it flourishes.

Today I am joining with Gail at clayandlimestone for her monthly wild flower meme. Thanks to Gail for hosting this  meme which is on the fourth Wednesday of every month.

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45 Responses to Wildflower Wednesday. Primula elatior- Oxlip

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this fun and interesting walk through the old woods of England. I love Primulas of every kind, even the garish supermarket ones. But I really love the Primula veris and P. elatior that you highlight here, with their taller stalks of nodding yellow flowers.

    • Chloris says:

      I love all Primulas too, the garish supermarket ones are always a welcome sight in late winter and the diversity of colours available now is amazing.

  2. Ah, yes–definitely a rare beauty to celebrate! Thanks for taking us along on your walk through the woods. It looks like a wonderful place to hike and hunt for wildflowers.

    • Chloris says:

      It is lovely and the spring wild flowers are wonderful here. Unfortunately there are only small pieces of woodland remaining from what was once a vast forest.

  3. Julie says:

    Chloris are you involved with Plantlife or the BSBI, they are joining forces this year to record wild flower sightings, I got involved last year for the first time. I have not yet visited Bulls Wood, I would like to, our local Wildlife Trust here have opened my eyes to so much, its a brilliant organisation. Lovely post too, I haven’t seen Marsh marigold out here yet, that is early!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Julie. No I haven’t heard about Plantlife, thank you for telling me about it. I shall look into it.I am a life long enthusiast of wild flowers and this time of the year is so exciting with so many treasures coming into bloom so early.

      • Julie says:

        You would be an absolute asset to them, the wildflower count details are under the tab ‘things to do’, on their website. I blogged about my experience with them last July and would thoroughly recommend it.

  4. Cathy says:

    Thanks you for sharing this walk with us – and what a shame the Pianist was so reluctant to tag along. I hope he admitted to enjoying it once you both got going! How lovely to have a local (I assume) wood where you know you will find these varied beauties – those banks of violets are gorgeous and the orange primula mutation is rather lovely too. I was interested to read about how rare the oxslip is and that it is restricted to eastern counties – but surely Pauline at Lead Up the Garden Path has mentioned oxslips, and she is in Devon? Or perhaps my memory is muddled – comes with age 😉

    • Chloris says:

      I don’ t think oxlips grow wild in Devon but perhaps Pauline has one in her garden. You can buy them, I have one in my garden which I bought. That’s how I knew they were in bloom and why I dragged the pianist off on a cold day which became very wet to look at them.

  5. pbmgarden says:

    The Woodland Trust sounds like a true treasure-keeper. So wonderful to have these wildflowers protected. A gardening friend just gave me several plants of primrose, but I don’t know what kind. If they bloom, perhaps I can use this blog post to help identify them.

    • Chloris says:

      Suffolk used to be heavily forested in mediaeval times and now we only have tiny fragments of these ancient woodlands left. Yes, it is a relief that the little that is left is protected now. I love primula of every kind and as they hybridise so readily you often get lovely surprises like that orange cowslip that we found.

  6. So many lovely wildflowers. I’m quite taken with the false cowslip.

  7. rusty duck says:

    Fascinating post Chloris. And aren’t they pretty.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Jessica, yes I think they are very special. There are nurseries that sell them and I have one in my garden but it never seeds around.

  8. Alain says:

    This nature reserve looks like a little paradise. Thank you for taking your camera along! We have a native primula growing around here (Primula mistassinica). It is quite pretty but tiny and grows directly on limestone.

  9. Chloris says:

    It is not very big but because it is such an ancient woodland there is a great variety of flora. I had never come across Primula mistassinica but I have just looked it up and it is delightful. I love most of the Primula family.

  10. Kris P says:

    I loved your tour. It’s sad that so much of the woodland areas have been lost but at least there are forces at work in the UK dedicated to preserving what’s left. While native plants certainly have their supporters in the US, preservation all too frequently takes a backseat to development.

    • Chloris says:

      That is what has happened over the years here and we are such a tiny island that we really haven’t much woodland left and hardly any meadows. We can’t afford to lose any more.

  11. What a wealth of wild flowers you are lucky to have on your doorstep! Many I have only seen in gardens. Such a shame many of them are so rare. Anemone nemerosa is one I have growing well, and expanding nicely, in my woodland area. They are so pretty, aren’t they?

  12. Chloris says:

    The verges and ditches seem particularly good this year. We are also lucky to have several remnants of ancient woodland and the older they are the greater is the diversity of flora. They are all quite small but they are protected so at least they are safe. I love the little wood anemones, it is great that they are spreading in your garden.

  13. AnnetteM says:

    I really enjoyed seeing your wild flower pictures, especially the violets. I don’t think I have ever seen white ones before.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Annette. There are lots of white violets on the verges round here, they are particularly good this year. Or perhaps I am noticing them more because I have taken up cycling.

  14. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post, and terrific photos. I’ve never seen white violets either. I wish that my log pile and pond looked like that. xx

  15. Chloris says:

    Thank you Flighty. I don’t know how long it took the woodpile to grow all that moss. Years I should think. Patience!

  16. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    Beautiful photos. Those violets are quite lovely

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you very much. The violets are good this year but that was the largest area of violets that I have seen. Now we have the Roadsides Nature Reserves ( RNR) in Suffolk where species rich verges are protected it has made a real difference.

  17. It is wonderful you have the Woodland Trust and Bulbs Woods. I love seeing spring bulbs blooming, yet one sees this less and less as years go by. I love the small Violets and they seem to be missing. Pesticide use has made them disappear from lawns and that is a shame. “97% of our meadows have been lost since the last war. Half of our ancient woodlands have disappeared,” shocked me. When it is put in terms of numbers, the realty hits. Many don’t realize what is lost until it really is lost.

    • Chloris says:

      Ancient woodlands are the most diverse in flora and wildlife but they only cover about 2% of land area in England. They are under threat from housing, quarrying and roads.
      The loss of our flower rich meadows means that many species of wildflower have become extinct and we are losing more every year. With the flowers all the butterflies and creatures that were dependent on them go too.

  18. bittster says:

    Thanks for taking us along on the visit, it really is a rich little woodland to stroll through. Nice that they maintain it for such diversity. Oftentimes protection around here just means from the bulldozers. Trees grow up, deer move in, and what’s left is an overbrowsed desert of just a few geriatric oaks and maples and no understory.

  19. Chloris says:

    These ancient woods were always coppiced and the wood used for a variety of purposes. They maintain them now using the traditional methods. This allows the wild flowers to flourish. Deer are a problem but they are regularly culled. Once an ancient forest ,with its diversity of species, is lost it can never be recreated. The trouble is we have very little ancient woodland left.

  20. Robbie says:

    “May Blobs” I had to chuckle..what an odd name-lol…nice posts + lovely tour!

  21. croftgarden says:

    Great post and it is great to sign the spotlight on our wild flowers. If you can find the time to record what you see and submit your records to BSBI or Plantlife it would really be appreciated. We need to document what we have, particularly in areas which are not protected, otherwise we don’t stand a chance of preserving our native fauna and flora.

    • Chloris says:

      I think it is a good idea and I will try and get round to it. I walk a lot and cycle and I make a point of keeping an eye on all the wildflowers in my area. In Bulls Wood , The Suffolk Wildlife do a great job of monitoring the wild flowers.

  22. Really interesting post. I have primroses and cowslips growing wild in my garden here in Wales and I thought I also had oxlip. Off to inspect it again to see if it is the false oxlip!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you. If you have both cowslips and primroses the chances are that they have hybridised. False oxlips have umbels of flowers all round the stem like cowslips. Oxlips have a one sided umbel. Do let me know.

  23. I grow Anenome nemorosa but since it’s not considered a native here (in the U.S.) , I can’t include it in my WW posts when it’s in bloom. It gets a little ‘wild’ in our gardens…but I do like the flower.

  24. A gardener once gave me a piece of marsh marigold, but it turned out to be what’s commonly called fig buttercup or lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), an invasive plant in our area. I’m so glad to see the marsh marigold here. They’re beautiful! But you need a better name; May blobs doesn’t do it justice.

  25. Chloris says:

    In some regions they are callled ‘Molly Blobs’ or even ‘Polly Blobs’ which is even worse. The name Marigold is Anglo-Saxon for marsh gold so Marsh Marigold is a tautology.
    In Cymbeline, Shakespeare called them ‘May buds’.
    ‘Winking May buds begin
    to open their golden eyes’.

  26. Your verges are much prettier than ours! So enjoyed seeing your woodland wildflowers. It’s sad to read that your woodlands are also under a threat from we humans. gail

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Gail, and thank you for hosting this wild flower meme. It is great to see wild flowers from other countries. Also it is really important to share our love of wild flowers and encourage others to take an interest in them too. So many of them are endangered here through loss of habitat. Many of them such as orchids never return once they are lost on a particular site.

  27. That was a lovely wee walk Chloris – I really enjoyed. I love Primula, one and all – P. elatior is a wee cracker.

  28. Chloris says:

    Thank you Angie, I am glad that you enjoyed it. I love Primulas too and these wild oxlips are very special.

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