Sunday, 15 January 2006

Identifications - News

This is a new part of the website to create a largely visual way of identifying plants growing in the garden or in the wild.

Recently various authors have started splitting up species, and a few totally new plants have been described. This will make identification more difficult especially for people with a limited knowledge of the genus.The author finds the classic taxonomic keys very difficult and often almost impossible to use. Sir George Taylor in his original monograph created something much easier to understand since he lumped together many similar described plants into a single species. Perhaps the best example was M. horridula which now has already been split back into about 9 species - and growing!. The problem here goes right back to Ray and later Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) who devised the binomial system of plant naming in about 1760 but this was before Darwin appeared on the planet and eventually formulated the concept of evolution. Within Meconopsis some species are fairly fixed with little variation but others are actively evolving and very varied over a very large geographical range. Another example of this is M. integrifolia now split into two species with a new one M. pseudointegrifolia and a number of sub species. The truth here is that this is a very variable plant over its entire range. If you take the extreme high altitude northerly (drier climate) of M.integrifolia, it is radically different from a lower altitude more southerly wet climate plant - M. pseudointegrifolia. I have grown plants from wild seeds ( under various names! ) from this pair from more then a dozen places in China and Tibet as well as having looked at many wild images and there is a complete variation between the two species and no characters reliably separate them. A final examle is the re spitting of M. betonicifolia into that and M. baileyi - going back towards the situation when Taylor lumped a lot togethger.  Chris Grey - Wilson describes this split in a recent edition of the Journal of the Alpine Garden Society but in truth the only critreria (out of the nine he gives) is a smooth seed pod and even Taylor acknowledged this but claimed it was not consistent between the Chinese population ( currently M. betonicifolia ) and the distant Tibetan population ( M. baileyi ).

However the aim of this website is not to become involved in taxonomic arguments but simply present the current species in a comparative way.

Although this website is under the control of the webmaster - James Cobb, I hope much of it will be written by outside experts. Prof. David Rankin from Edinburgh University has already been recruited to write up a guide to the blue/purple evergreen monocarpic species and Paul Egan from Aberdeen University the rest of the evergreen monocarpics. Although this website will remain independent it has been cloisely associated with the Meconopsis Group based on the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and in particular the current convener of the group John Mitchell.  Alan Elliot now studying Meconopsis at The RBGE has already been immensely helpful in guiding the webmaster on current tazonomy and especially in locating and often copying for me original research papers on the genus.

Saturday, 14 January 2006

Identifications - How To Use

Fifty years ago I started training as a botanist in Dundee, then a college of St. Andrews University. To continue with botany and zoology I had to transfer to St. Andrews University itself. At the end of my second year I dropped botany to concentrate on zoology. This was almost entirely because botany in those days consisted almost entirely of rote learning taxonomy while zoology was opening up to all sorts of exciting cell and molecular things. I did however spend much spare time in the botanic gardens and there realized the wonderful diversity of the genus Meconopsis. I did later teach botany at the tertiary level though a colleague in the now biology department described me as just a bl**dy gardener - which probably was quite reasonable ! So I have always found taxonomy a little tedious - to me its function is to ensure anyone, anywhere in the world, in any language knows just what plant one is talking about. Taxonomists however see it as something subjest to constant change as science developes new and ever more complex ways of classifying plants. In theory all new descriptions of plants should be published in refereed journals but given the very, very few real experts in this genus of plants this is unlikely to happen. Taxonomic identification may require access to material that has immature leaves, flower spikes, flowers at various stages of development as well as developing and mature seeds pods and sometimes microscopic examination of structures including ripe seed. The aim of this website is gradually, with help from lots of outside experts, to develope a pictorial site where identification can be achieved with a high likelyhood of success with significant comparative images of all the critical features. How successful it will be remains to be seen but the power of the internet and the digital camera combined with some sort of integrity with those creating the website should allow a successful development. So much for pious good intentions!!

For more expert readers - remember there is much variation in some species - M. horridula group and in new areas these may not have been desciribed though whether they are worthy of being new species is doubtful. Second recently split species like M. integrifolia and M. pseudointegrifolia ( with 5 subspecies ) are almost continuously variable with climate and altitude. There are relatively few hybrids described from the wild. For beginners particularly, identifying garden plants you need to understand the categories ( use this guide ) e.g. which are winter dormant, which are evergreen, also which may be perennial and which are monocarpic ( die after flowering ) and be aware there are all sorts of hybrids and this includes new ones arriving from garden seed you have sown!

Friday, 13 January 2006

Hybrids - Garden / Wild

M X Harleyana
This is the best known wild hybrid. It was first created as a garden plant by Andrew Harley before the second world war. Taylor suspected, rightly, that this was the same plant as Kingdom Ward's plant from the Temo La in Tibet which he had called the Ivory Poppy. He found this in 1924 - in fact the year before Harley flowered the same cross in his garden at Devonhall. This was a hybrid and so it proved to be between M. integrifolia and M. simplicifolia. Recently found again in the Rong Chu and this image is from Fred Hunt of Invergowrie. It resembles a cream coloured M. simplicifolia. Note that since M. integrifolia was split up, the yellow parent would be M.pseudointegrifolia.
M. X beamishii
Always suspect a hybrid when there is a cream coloured flower. This is the cross between M. integrifolia and M. grandis. M. integrifolia * is a parent of a number of hybrids with blue poppies of all sorts. See' hybrids' in main section.
* Note it is not always clear whether M. integrifolia or M. pseudointegrifolia were used in many crosses not the least because the split is relatively recent.
M X. Cookei
These are basically hybrids between M. quintuplinervia and M. punicea. This has been made many times since the first cross by Randal Cooke and now includes mutiple backcrosses that resemble M. punicea but are reliably perennial and have individual clonal names.
M. X Sheldonii Slieve Donard
Perhaps the most beautiful of all the blue hybrids, the vast majority of which are hybrids between M. betonicifolia and M grandis. Many of these have been collected by Evelyn Stevens who grows them on the Ochil Hills above Dunblane. They are detailed on the website of the Meconopsis Group.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Small Miscellaneous

Meconopsis lyrata.
A small species found in Bhutan by Margaret Thorne. She, the web master and Alan Elliot of the RBG Edinburgh looked this up in the herbarium and decided it was M. lyrata but this was not straight forward and this species should be looked up in the main species pages of this website.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Red / Mauve Drooping Flowers

M. punicea. An unmistakeable species and a true scarlet which is rare in flowering plants. This colour is often associated with bird pollinated species in the Americas (for example scarlet penstemons). However the rest of the flower is not typical of bird pollination since the flower is a fairly open cup (not a long narrow tube) with masses of pollen and not much in the way of nectar. It is likely that it is bee pollinated but in western gardens the flower does not usually open wide and remains drooping and fairly closed. The flowers open from typical sized buds but the very long petals are highly folded and delightfully creased as they open! The flowers in this image are rather more open on a sunny day and a bumble bee could easily pollinate them. However although all flowers have large anthers with masses of pollen from ocre coloured to almost back purple sometimes none of it is shed. This is presumably because either growing conditions or temperatures are not typical of its wild habitat. The larger the plant the more flowers and the greater the chance of pollen being shed. Even so hand pollinating is advised. Visitors to this species in the wild could see if they can identify the pollinator as well as seeing whether the species can be perennial in the wild (see later).
A picture taken on September 10th in 2011 in my garden. This has been a cool wet summer and many plants did not die after flowering and throw these small flowers on short stems. They only have a single tap root and side shoots refuse to root even with hormones, warmth and mist. Every plant the webmaster has had (many) over the years has always succumbed by December. Farrer, who spent a long time with this species in the wild as far north as Kansu, said IT WAS NOT PERENNIAL. There are plants currrently in cultivation that are perennial notably one widely distributed by Ian Christie of Kirriemuir north of Dundee. Visitors to where this grows in the wild should check plants for evidence of a previous years flowering. Flowers at maturity on a warm sunny day with them open enough to allow easy access to a bumble bee. This still however does not explain in evolutionary terms why they are this intense scarlet not a typical colour for an insect pollinated plant.
A recently opened flower inverted. The large size of the flower is obvious. There is almost no style and the large red shaded stigma is surrounded by anthers but there are no obvious nectaries. These anthers have not yet started to dehisce and this takes up to two days even in sunny weather and a proportion never seem to shed pollen though the anthers are apparently quite normal. The pollen can vary from almost yellow to almost black. When all goes well a large plant with 40 flowers can produce substantial amounts of seed,but cross pollination like nearly all Meconopsis is essential. For the webmaster they are the easist species overwintering with invariable success without cover and they look most attractive in a mass planting, which for biennial plants can be very close together.
There have been some variations in cultivation. This is a perennial form produced by the nurseryman Ian Christie from Kirriemuir. They have occured elsewhere but from many thousands grown the webmaster has not produced one. Possibly in some cases hybridisation may be involved. A large flowered but slightly paler form in cultivation.
This colour break occurred in my garden 3 years ago but as I mix seed from various gardens, I cannot be sure it originated here in Fife. It is an odd but unusual colour but I am trying to keep it isolated but I have given much seed and many hundreds of plants away and I know it flowered this colour in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh from my plants this year (2011). I strongly suspect it is a colour break and not a hybrid for a number of reasons. It has identical dimensions and features as the scarlet forms. There are hybrids between M. quintuplinervia (see this page) and M. punicea and have been made many times. They are named M.x Cookei after Randle Cook who first made it many years ago. They are mostly a washy but pleasant pinky mauve but are perennial and sterile. Leslie Drummond of Forfar (Angus, Scotland) has specialized in making Meconopsis crosses and produced many back crosses to M. punicea and produced a perennial scarlet hybrid he calls 7/8th. Some of these are now available commercially. Their virtue is that they are reliably perennial drawing this character and a spreading habit from M. quintuplinervia.
Classic garden image of M. quintuplinervia - the harebell poppy. For very many years this has been easily maintained in cultivation by division of a number of clones that are all very perennial and spreading by stolons. Seed set has been rare but for some years Evelyn Stevens has provided me with some and in 2010 I realized it probably behaved the same way as M. punicea and needed sowing as soon as ripe. This seed germinated well in January 2011 from a July sowing and robust plants are already flowering and the seedlings grew on as rapidly and easily as M. punicea. An image from Martin Walsh, in the wild, of the hybrid between M. punicea and M. quintuplinerva. This is called M. Cookei after Randle Cook who first made this cross in cultivation. There is a great deal of variation in M.quintuplinervia in the wild according to Reginald Farrer who spent much time in its wild habitats in northern China 100 years ago. He described all shades of mauve and purple as well as azure blue, albinoids (white with touches of purple) and a crystalline white. It would be wonderful if some of these could be recollected, especially if they were as perennial and easy as the ones we already have.
This is M. simplicifolia - always scapose. This is an extremly variable plant from big blue forms rivalling M. grandis to really squinny forms of small size and poor colour. The leaf is however fairly characteristic. As this does not overlap in range with M. quintuplinervia and does not have the narrow leaves of that species it should not cause confusion in the wild. M. primulina. A rather small and perhaps insignificant species from the Himalayas (Bhutan in this case). The leaf in this species can be varied but the plant is not scapose even if it has a drooping flower. More detail will be found on the main website on this species. The black style has been photographed and described by Margaret Thorne but I have seen no mention of it before. It is a very striking characteristic but also occurs in M. sinuata.
Meconopsis bella. Another purely Himalayan plant. Found at high altitudes and usually on cliffs, not it meadows. It is always scapose with a few large flowers that can be a pale blue, mauve or pink. Very difficult in cultivation so confusion only likely in the wild but generally a very distinctive (and spectacular) plant. A wonderful image by Martin Walsh. M. delavayi. A drooping purple species from a restricted range in Yunnan. The leaf is glaucous and smooth. It is bright green without significant hairs.
Superb image of a superb plant by Martin Walsh on the Red Mountain in China. This is M. lancifolia. There are a number of purple flowered species in China that are difficult to de-limit to species. Currently Chris Grey- Wilson is trying to sort these out. The usually have soft mauve to deep purple flowers and the spines on the leafs are characteristically softer with fewer thinner spines. Harry Jans image.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Purple Flowers

M. lancifolia
A most beautiful image by Harry Jans of the best known of the purple flowered species from China that are deciduous. This is a very variable species and it may well be that when Chris Grey-Wilson's monograph on the genus is published that there are changes and probably splits. IT MUST BE REMEMBERED that the M. horridula group do sometimes have quite deep purple flowers and that species like M. rudis (in the horridula group) often have washy mauve flowers THE LEAVES however are distinctive since in the M. lancifolia group the spines or hairs are softer and shorter and in fact are quite distinct.
M. impedita
A difficult species to identify, probably only needed in the field since these are difficult to cultivate (except in cold northern climates like Norway). It is scapose but very similar to the also scapose M. venusta and M. pseudovenusta. It is not helped by having very variable leaves from pinnate to long and narrow.
M. pseudovenusta
This is not easy to separate from the previous species or indeed from the one that follows. They all have variable leaf shape, similar coloured flowers and anthers. The one feature that separates this species from the next is the long narrow seed pod of M. venusta.
M. venusta - left half image
Images taken from Sir George Taylor's book Meconopsis. The left hand image is M. venusta and the right pseudovenusta. Both are type specimens. Not really helpful since they do not show all the characters which separate them!. Taylor split these on the basis of the seed pods. A single one is present in these images on M pseudovenusta but none on M. venusta. THE DEFINING CHARACTER IS THE SEED POD ON THE LATTER SHOULD BE LONG AND NARROW. Without this character they are not separable! Seen in flower with no seed pods these three would be very difficult to separate if not impossible.
M. concinna
A high altitude M. lancifolia - always dwarf with a few scapose flowers.
M. henricii
A beautiful large flowered and robust species. This is again variable and the exact relationship between this and other species of purple flowered Chinese species needs more work. It has distintive inflated filaments - a feature it shares with the very closely related M. sinomaculata BUT see also M. pseudohorridula which has been described with inflated filaments.
M. sinomaculata.
Recently described by Chris Grey-Wilson. Particularly separated by the very dark centre to the flower. This is very distinctive but not unique as some other purple species throw specimens with this character. The web master has to confess that he has aways wondered if this is not a hybrid between M. henricii and another purple flowered species. It seems odd that such a distinctive plant should have been missed by the early plant explorers of this area and it does not seem to be widespread. It has the same dilated filaments as M. henricii. The webmaster must confess these are very irrational thoughts but it would help if future explorers to its area of distribution investigated this possibility!
M. delavayi
Has its own separate series in Taylor's classification. Always scapose and without obvious spines or hairs on the leaves. Restricted range around Lijiang in Yunnan.
M. quintuplinervia
Many small delicate flowers in varying shades of mauve/purple. One of the classic Meconopsis in cultivation and of great charm - perennial.
M. forrestii
One of the purple flowered species. This was grown from wild Sichuan seed. The long spines on the leaves are not typical of M. lancifolia and it keys out to this species. This group is in need of revision and the web master has grown few of this group since they are difficult in southern Scotland and only seen 2 species in Yunnan.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Spiny Leaved Blue Lobed Leaves

M. aculeata
There are possibly four species in this category that closely resemble the variations of M. horridula except there have divided leaves. THIS is M aculeata. It is found in the western Himalayas. There is a similar species - M. neglecta - found even farther west into far western Pakistan and perhaps even into Afghanistan - this however not well known or seen recently and may well be just a variation on M. aculeata. The foliage on this species tends to be a more glaucous/grey green. The flowers can be a good sky blue but are often mauve or a shot silk blue/mauve.
M. aculeata
The anthers are yellow and all but the flowers are covered with coarse spines.These spines can be straw coloured as well as shades of purple. It has recently been recollected and there are many images taken in the wild. Like many species it tends to become more scapose with altitude. A lovely image by Martin Walsh.
 No Image Available  
M. neglecta
This species was described by Sir George Taylor in his monograph in 1934. This was uniquely found west of the Indus river in Chitral on the Kafiristan border. It was only a partial specimen and only immature seed capsules were present and no details of height or location. The flowers are all borne on basal scapes which Taylor could find in no herbarium specimens of M. aculeata. Taylor himself was not happy with this as a criterion (wisely since a number of species become scapose at higher altitudes). He also noted it's geographical isolation from all other Meconopsis and noted a much shorter style than in any specimens he had seen of M. aculeata. Not an easy area to re collect from but that is what is needed.
M. speciosa
A wonderful image of this species as a dwarfed plant growing in a crevice at high altitude. The glossy dark green leaves are in perfect proportion to a large and beautiful flower.
M. speciosa
A very desirable plant from the eastern end of the Himalayas and especially China. It is a high altitude plant and although tried in cultivation and seed is occasionally available it is very difficult even if the seed germinates. The soft blue flowers are large and contrast wonderfully with the yellow anthers. The foliage is very divided into lobes and appears always to be a deep almost greasy green colour which adds to its attractiveness. It is a widespread plant but not particularly common. Like all its relatives it is monocarpic though no doubt at altitude it will take some years to flower.
The plant is always at the level of the screes and not in the more grassy vegetation lower down. This might be possible to grow in places like northern Norway and maybe in Alaska - possibly a part of the USA where difficult species are worth trying.
Not really sure of this plant, it might be M. pseudohorridula (see under spiny leaved unlobed), might be a hybrid (though this has not been described) between M. prattii or somesuch - the two species occur on the same mountainside- or maybe it is a variation of the species. I have been sent a number of images like this. At a guess I would say it is a variation on M. racemosa or M. prattii.

Sunday, 8 January 2006

Spiny Leaved Blue Plain Leaves ( Horridua Types )

Meconopsis horridula
A classic image of a classic plant-regretably almost impossible to grow! Note there is no raceme and the plant is scapose and ground hugging.
Taylor lumped a number of species into this. Recently many have been resplit and new ones have been described. THIS IS A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF WHY THE LINNEAN BINOMIAL SYSTEM DOES NOT WORK. THIS IS A SORT OF SUPERSPECIES IN THE PROCESS OF ACTIVE EVOLUTION. It is widespread in the Himalayas and China and very variable in spininess, leaf pigmentation and flower colour though it tends to be consistent in a particular area.
Meconopsis horridula
Another image of the variation that has been given the classic name. Typically sky blue flowers, very spiny leaves with long, usually golden spines (but can be at least partly purple) and bright gold stamens. These are always high altitude - 5,000 m. and near Everest up to 6,000 m. and towards the maximum altitude of any vascular plant. However note even this plant is at least partly scapose with the first bud clearly on a branch of the main stem. These are often agglutinosed (pedicels stuck to the main stem but with a vascular bundle separate from the main stem) This becomes more pronounced as one descends the mountain until at about 4,000 m. they are properly racemose and become M. racemosa !
Meconopsis racemosa
This the standard racemose from of what was lumped by Taylor into M. horridula. It is very similar to the next image of M prattii. M. racemosa is usually described with yellow anthers and sometimes has at least partially purple spines on the leaves while M. prattii does not. This is a very widespread plant in the Himalayas as well as China and probably very variable.
Classic picture of M. prattii - taken, I suspect, at a sort of tame botanic garden near Lijiang. This is another of Chris Grey-Wilsons splits from Taylor's M. horridula. He quite rightly points out that this identical to the M. horridula grown in gardens. This year I grew 40 of the wild collected species from Yunnan and compared them to 40 plants grown from the strain grown in gardens for the last 50 years or more. They were quite indistinguishable by any biometric measurement. This species has been reported with pigmented leaves , yellow anthers and even being entirely scaopse at altitude. However this group is becoming ever more chaotic and many identifications in this 'superspecies' have to be suspect. Image by Alain Denis
M. rudis
A plant typical of that now split off as M. rudis. This has large broad leaves that are glaucous, large rather sparse spines which are purple pigmented particularly at the spine base, the anthers are usually greyish and the petals at best a royal blue but often purple and sometimes an ugly muddy purple. It is a distinctive plant with attractive foliage.
M. rudis
Comparison with a leaf of M. prattii. The rudis leaf shows the glaucous nature, more oval shape and particularly the raised purple bases to the spines. On the Da Xue Shan in Yunnan when the author found this species in it's pure form it occurred in open screes while on the same mountain side M. prattii was at lower levels among grazed grass. THERE WERE HUGE NUMBERS of hybrids intermediate between these two species.
M. rudis
A defining character of this species are the purple spines and tubercles which give rise to them. The author grows many Meconopsis from wild seed (when available) and in 2009 sowed seed sold as 'species' This germinated extremely well with more than 100 plants grown on. As seedlings they were troubling with very long petioles (see above) but grew well and large. In 2010 they largely flowered and were clearly M. rudis HOWEVER more than half had broad glaucous leaves BUT WITH NO PIGMENT. THUS PURPLE PIGMENT ON LEAF SPINES CANNOT BE A DEFINING CHARACTER OF THIS SPECIES. Note in the middle top row there is a leaf of M. pratti for comparison.
M. prainiana
Another split species lumped by Taylor. It is a more robust plant and clearly attractive but not in cultivation, a defining character is meant to be that it has 4 petals. Taylor who examined herbarium specimens collected by Kingdom-Ward among others, could see no justification in giving it even varietal status! As with many of the 'species' that follows it really has to depend whether you are a 'splitter' or a 'lumper.' Of course if you are like the bird 'twitching' communiity the more the merrier! Scientifically it is difficult to see what the value is since many do not fit what is a sensible objective view of a true species. People who have recently seen this plant say it can have at least 6 petals. IF ALL THESE NEW SPECIES ARE INTERFERTILE - WHICH I SUSPECT THEY WILL BE - then giving them species status is undermined.
M. bijangiensis
Herbarium sheet deposited at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. To the web master this is just a variation on the racemose forms like M. racemosa. It has purple blue flowers which characteristically droop (maybe like other Meconopsis sp. that show this character to shed rain) It has so far only been found by Toshio Yoshida on the very unexplored northern Mekong/Salween divide. It shows leaves typical of many other variations on racemose 'horridula' types with longish petioles. The webmaster has colour images (Yoshida is a quite remarkably good photographer) but these would be subject to copyright).
M. castanea
This image is NOT M. castanea but a lovely red form of M. racemosa photographed in Bhutan by Martin Walsh in an area where there were also clear pink ones. M. castanea has been described as a new species based on plants found on the Mekong/Salween divide by Toshio Yoshida. It is difficult to see any defining characters which separate this from the widespread racemose M. racemosa other than flower colour. Flower colour simply is not a character that should be used to define species.
M. heterandera
Another new species described from a single plant deposited at the Kunming Herbarium by Toshio Yoshida. It was collected on the Mianning Xian. It is well illustrated with colour plates in Acta Botanica Yunnanica 32, 503-507 (2010) This species looks very like many M. racemosa BUT is is decribed as having a ring of outer stamens with inflated (air filled) filaments. The illustration above is copied from photographs of these unique stuctures. The filaments in M. henricii apparently differ in being dilated rather than inflated. They describe plants on the Balang Shan, Siguniang Shan and the Jiajin Shan to the north as variants of this species or hybrids where they have been previously been described as M. racemosa or rudis. Whether this character is sufficient for a new species to be claimed and how widespread they are needs further investigation.
M. qinghaiensis
An image from Ron Macbeath taken some years ago while on an expedition from the R.B.G.E. This was taken towards the most northerly distribution of this species in China. It reputably is more upward facing when in flower than M. horridula and this perhaps would be expected from the very much drier climate than many of the high altitude M. horridula. There were also images of the plant growing with agglutinosed racemes with a few flowers just as happens with M. horridula as one comes down from high altitude. Very difficult to see how anyone can justify this as a separate species or even perhaps a variety.
M pseudohorridula
This species has been described on the Flora of China website (where the description and drawings can be seen). It was described by Wu and Chuang in 1985 in the Flora of SE Xizang. It is a dwarf and scapose (10cms in flower) from high altitude of 4,700 m. This dwarfness and scapose nature is typical of the high altitude M. horridula which apart from the pinnate foliage it closely resembles. The flower is pale blue and the anthers yellow - as in M. horridula. Even M. prattii sometimes has pinnate lobes as do other species in this complex so once again one has to doubt whether this is truly a species rather than a variant from a particular region.Copied by the webmaster (badly) from the Flora of China website.