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What is an Oxlip?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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An oxlip, also known by its scientific name Primula elatior, is a flowering plant native to parts of Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Russia. It is recognizable by its pale yellow, drooping flower clusters, held up by thin stalks which project upward from bright green bunches of leaves. As its features are very similar to those of the cowslip, it is sometimes misidentified by amateur plant enthusiasts.

Oxlip is found in several regions of Europe. It is quite common in southern Sweden as well as parts of Denmark. To a lesser extent, the plant appears in northern Russia and the United Kingdom. Wild oxlip thrives in moist, woodland soil with full or partial sunlight. The plant is also sometimes cultivated for decorative purposes, and it appears in private and public gardens throughout Europe.

An oxlip plant’s flowers are pale yellow in color. Each cup-shaped blossom is approximately 0.5 to 1 inch (1.27 to 2.54 centimeters) in width and consists of five notched petals. These flowers are typically found in downward-hanging clusters of two, three, or more. The clusters are held up by thin stalks which range from 4 to 12 inches (about 10.16 to 30.48 centimeters) in height. Oxlips usually bloom between late spring and early summer.

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In addition to its flowers, the oxlip can be identified by its low bunches of bright green leaves. These leaves are roughly oval in shape, with irregular, serrated edges and slightly tapered ends. They typically range from 2 to 6 inches (about 5.08 to 15.24 centimeters) in length, and 0.75 to 2 inches (about 1.91 to 5.08 centimeters) in width. The surfaces of the leaves have a distinctly wrinkled appearance. They tend to grow low to the ground and are not found on the plant’s stalk.

Both the flowers and the leaves of the oxlip bear a marked resemblance to those of the Primula veris, or cowslip. The two plants are often found in the same areas of Europe, and certain 19th-century scientists even theorized that the oxlip was a naturally-occurring hybrid of the cowslip and another flowering plant, the primrose. While the oxlip and the cowslip continue to be commonly confused by amateur plant enthusiasts, the cowslip’s flowers tend to be both smaller and brighter than those of its close relative, and also have a distinctive red dot at their centers.

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