Nature Table: The Cowslip

Cowslips are in full bloom at present. They are closely related to primroses. 

Cowslips carry a number of yellow flowers with orange centres on a tall stalk while primroses carry a single all-yellow flower on a short stem.

Primroses are originally woodland plants while cowslips are grassland plants. Primroses bloom earlier in the year, before the woodland canopy has formed.

They quite frequently hybridise and the result, called a false oxlip, is often spectacular with the large flowers of the primrose and the tall, many-headed stem of the cowslip --- the ‘true’ oxlip is a rare woodland plant found in south-eastern England.

Cowslips and primroses also sometimes hybridise with cultivated primulas. Cowslips are plants of lime-rich unimproved grassland which gets light grazing, though they occasionally turn up in sand dunes. They are commonest in the Midlands and east.

There was a decline in abundance in the second half of the twentieth century due to changing agricultural practices but there are some signs of an increase in numbers in recent years.

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