Primula veris | Cowslip | Bainne bó bleachtáin



Native status

Native species, apart from much of Northern Ireland, where most populations are now thought to be introductions.

Species Biology


  • Plants grow to about 30 cm, and flower in April and May.
  • The yellow flowers are borne in groups on the top of a single long downy flowering stem (scape).
  • The corolla (petals) is a tube with short lobes spreading to around 10mm across. Each is loosely surrounded by a pale green calyx (sepals joined in a tube) with pointed tips.
  • The flowers are said to smell of apricot, and have orange marks inside.
  • The wrinkled leaves grow in a rosette, and are pinched in abruptly to the petiole (leaf stalk), unlike the leaves of Primrose which taper gradually. They are lightly furry on both sides and grow to 15 cm long

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) is a common and familiar close relative of Cowslip.

Primroses and Cowslips can hybridise if they grow close to one another, resulting in Primula x polyantha, sometimes called False Oxlip. They can be identified by the larger paler flowers, intermediate between the two parents, as in the photo above. (Note that Oxlip, Primula elatior, is not found in the wild in Ireland.)


Cowslips grow in natural and semi natural grassy habitats on calcareous and base-rich soils. 

In some parts of Ireland Cowslips are quite common, however in others they are rare and almost lost. In Northern Ireland they are so rare that they are a protected species. They are often planted along roadsides and in gardens, so are more likely to be native away from road verges.

Threats faced

Natural and semi natural grassy habitats on calcareous and base-rich soils are under threat of being lost due to land abandonment, changes of use, and agricultural improvement.


World distribution(GBIF)

BSBI distribution map

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2024

The following map is interactive. If you would prefer to view it full screen then click here.

How can you help

Irish Species Project: If you have seen Cowslip or any of the species in the Irish Species Project, please fill out a recording form. It can be downloaded here, and you can also download the guidance document for detailed instructions (both also available at  

You can also get in touch with your local BSBI Vice County Recorder via Maria Long, BSBI Irish Officer ( or contact her if you have any questions. 

Spring flowering plants project: Cowslip is also one of the species in our 2016  spring flowering plants project. All casual sightings submitted are very valuable. 

Full list of species included in the spring flowering plants project:

  1. Bluebell
  2. Common Dog-violet
  3. Cowslip
  4. Early Dog-violet
  5. Early-purple Orchid
  6. Lady’s smock (Cuckooflower)
  7. Lesser Celandine
  8. Lords-and Ladies
  9. Primrose
  10. Toothwort
  11. Wild Garlic
  12. Winter Heliotrope
  13. Wood Anemone
  14. Wood Sorrel
  15. Coltsfoot
  16. Three-cornered Garlic

Further information

Irish Species Project: one of eight species chosen for the Irish Species Project, a two year recording effort by the Irish division of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). All eight species are thought to be declining, at least in parts of their range. Full list of eight species included in the Irish Species Project:

Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria), Cyperus Sedge (Carex pseudocyperus), Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella), Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), Cowslip (Primula veris), Common Wintergreen (Pyrola minor), Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos)

Spring flowering plants project: this project is a collaboration between the National Biodiversity Data Centre and the BSBI. It is hoped we can collect valuable data to improve our knowledge of the current distribution of some common plants. All data will be fully validated by both partners before loading to Biodiversity Maps and being made available to the BSBI.



Parnell J. and Curtis T. (2012) Webb’s An Irish Flora. Cork: Cork University Press 8th ed.

Preston C.D., Pearman D.A. and Dines T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: An Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Rose F. and O’Reilly C. (2006) The Wild Flower Key: how to identify wild flowers, trees and shrubs in Britain and Ireland. London: Frederick Warne rev. ed.

Stace C. (2010) New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press 2010 3rd ed.

Photos of Primula leaves from, with kind permission.