How to tell the difference between Cowslip and Primrose

cowslip versus primrose

How to tell the difference between cowslip and primrose

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between cowslip and primrose? Well, recently, my daughter has discovered the flower fairies by Cicely Mary Barker and befriended her image of the cowslip fairy. So, she was overjoyed to spot what she thought was a cowslip growing alongside the path.

Her joy soon turned to confusion however, when she then spotted another, fairly similar flower growing a few steps away from it, being adamant that it must be another cowslip, but doubting herself because, the two plants looked a bit different.

So, after telling her their names and how to tell them apart, I thought it might be of interest to write a quick tutorial about it so that you can learn to tell the difference between cowslip and primrose too.

How to identify cowslip

Cowslip, or Primula veris, is a spring flowering plant with yellow flowers clustered at the top of tall, proud stems. It can be found growing in moist, boggy pastures, meadows and roadsides and are among the first plants to flower.

Each star or bell-like flower has five yellow petals with a deep orange spot in the middle of each petal. The five petals join beneath the star to form a longish tube, encased by a loose, leafy sheath and have a musky, vanilla-like smell.

Its leaves are oval-shaped and characteristically crinkled. However, their oval shape narrows quite suddenly along its length, leaving a long, thin, stalk-like base to the leaves, which grow rosette-like from the base of the plant.


How to identify primrose

Primrose, or Primula vulgaris is also a spring-flowering, 5-yellow-petaled, crinkly-leaved, rosette-based plant. Like the cowslip, it also grows in moist, boggy meadows, pastures and roadsides, and is among the first plants to flower. So, how do you tell them apart?

Well, primrose flowers have wider petals than the cowslip, and their orange spots come together to form a star-like pattern in the middle of the flower. Also, unlike cowslip’s proud clusters of flowers, each primrose flower grows by itself at the end of a short, single stalk.

The primrose leaves are also different, in that they taper down really gradually towards the base of the plant, so they do not have the characteristic tail of the cowslip leaves. (Although they are similarly light green and crinkly.)

primrose, spring flowers


So, in summary, here are the differences between cowslip and primrose:

  • Cowslip has clusters of small, bell-like flowers on tall stems.
  • Primrose has wide open flowers on short stems.
  • Cowslip leaves narrow down into a long, thin base
  • Primrose leaves remain broad, tapering gently towards the base.
Once you know the difference between them, telling cowslips and primroses apart is actually really easy!
Well. I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial – let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe if you would love to get notifications of new nature tutorials.
Happy nature walking and see you soon! Leila x

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Hello, I’m Leila! Welcome to My Nature Nook. I help families learn about and connect with Nature. Learn more

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