Primula elatior

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaPrimulaceaePrimulaPrimula elatior


A perennial herb of woods dominated by Acer campestre, Corylus, Fraxinus and Quercus robur on damp chalky boulder-clay soils, especially where seasonal flooding occurs; rarely in wet Alnus woods, damp meadows and ancient hedgerows. Lowland.



World Distribution

European Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe; also in C. Asia.

Broad Habitats

Broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland

Light (Ellenberg): 4

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 6

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.3

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3

Annual Precipitation (mm): 591

Height (cm): 20

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 38

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.01

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Primula elatior (L.) Hill


Status: scarce


P. elatior is a shade-tolerant species. It is most frequent in woods dominated by ash, field maple and pedunculate oak (with an understorey of hazel) on soils derived from calcareous boulder clay and it persists when these trees are replaced by invasive elm clones. Within these woods it is locally abundant in areas where the vigour of Mercurialis perennis, usually a dominant herb, is reduced by seasonal flooding. The woods are traditionally managed as coppices with scattered oak standards. P. elatior flowers profusely in the second year after coppicing but much less freely as the coppice stools grow and shade increases. Other, much rarer, habitats include wet alder woods, damp meadows and ancient hedgerows; at its only Norfolk locality it formerly grew in a Phragmites-dominated fen community over peat (Woodell 1965). It is confined to the lowlands.

P. elatior is a highly sedentary perennial. Many of the woods in which it grows are probably primary. It also grows in some ancient secondary woods but spreads very slowly into recent woods, even if these are adjacent to existing populations, and rarely colonises hedgerows. Plants are almost completely self-incompatible. Viable seed is produced but little is known about the longevity of plants or the circumstances under which they reproduce by seed. The response to coppicing reflects an increase in the vigour of existing plants.

P. elatior meadows have been almost or entirely eliminated by agricultural improvement, and the species has become increasingly restricted to woodland. In woods it is tenacious; numbers are reduced when coppicing ceases or woods are coniferised but plants continue to grow in open areas such as rides. Numbers have apparently declined in some well-studied woods since 1945, for reasons which are unclear (Rackham 1992). In recent years spectacular displays of P. elatior in flower have become rarer, as deer have increased in numbers and often eat the young inflorescences.

P. elatior is a widespread and variable species, extending from Britain east to the Altai mountains of central Asia. It is a montane species in the southern and eastern parts of its range. 

The compact range of P. elatior in Britain was first documented by Christy (1897). Within this area it tends to replace P. vulgaris; the two species hybridise where they meet. For further accounts of this well studied species, see Preston (1993), Rackham (1980), and Richards (1989).


C. D. Preston

Atlas text references

Atlas (201b)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Preston CD
1993.  The distribution of the Oxlip Primula elatior (L.) Hill in Cambridgeshire. Nature in Cambridgeshire. 35:29-60.
Rackham O
1999.  The woods 30 years on: where have the Primroses gone? Nature in Cambridgeshire. 41:73-87.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.