Thursday, 3 December 2009

New Species

The latest Alpine Garden Society Bulletin Vol 77 no. 2 June 2009 has an article by Chris Grey-Wilson re-instating Meconopsis baileyi for the Tibetan form and leaving M. betonicifolia to describe the Chinese species from Yunnan - which was described first. I think most gardeners with a sense of taxonomy would happily accept when confronted by these two species that they were simply consistent variations as occur in many other single Meconopsis species. Grey-Wilson lists 9 differences between the two new species; most of these are on size of various parts. There is some overlap in leaf characteristics but in the seed pod and associated structures where Grey-Wilson describes clear differences these are not clear cut in the Tibetan form so common in gardens and this was the basic conclusion of George Taylor who did see this species in the wild  The Chinese ( M. betonicifolia ) form is apparently readily propagated because it is stoloniferous. Sometimes we forget that the Chinese and Tibetans have a long and sophisticated history and Meconopsis had value both as sources of oil as well as having rather ill-defined medicinal value. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a good easily propagated plant of value might have been artificially moved and certainly some explanation is required for the disjunct populations. The one feature that is much more critical is that Grey-Wilson says that in Alaska, where both forms are grown together, they do not set seed if cross-fertilised. If this is so then separate species is probably reasonable. However, Meconopsis in cultivation do not always reliably set seed due to factors that are not always clear but of which temperature may be critical. I have had plantings of M. grandis in Caithness for many years and it is only rarely that some forms set viable seed. Last year there was a good set particularly from the KEKE form and the so-called Sikkim form. These plants are immediately adjacent and yet they appear not to cross-pollinate.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

New Image - By David Rankin

David Rankin, recently returned for Yunnan, and found M. violacea in the Wu Meng Shan.  Previously, this species was described from Northern Burma ( Myanmar ) by Kingdom - Ward in 1926.  This is a completely new location.  Was in cultivation, but lost many years ago.  Beautiful images of a superb plant.  Also from the same area by the same exploring group M. wumungensis photographed in colour for the first time by a western photographer, Pam Eveleigh ( of Primula World fame ).  Note : It is becoming increasingly clear that M. wilsonii is probably conspecific with M. violacea.  I am very grateful to Professor David Rankin and Paul Egan for lots of helpful comments and advice as well as extensive images.  There are more details under the two species but the website will be udpated as things become more clear.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Google Maps - Meconopsis

Google Map Data has now been developed and integrated within the site.  These maps will be gradually added for all species as I learn how to do it - the biggest difficulty is finding exactly where one is on maps of these remote regions.

There is potential to put sites on with GPS Data but this will need doing with care.  I have recently been reading Peter Coxs' and Peter Hutchinsons' splendid book ' Seeds Of Adventure ' - full of wonderful pictures and fascinating accounts of many adventures in the Himalayas and China.  They comment that they think some Meconopsis may be getting scarcer.  I have only been to China once and saw a number of species but even monocarpic species like M. lancifolia needed searching for and M. pseudointegrifolia was often just a very few plants.  Species like M. punicea and M. integrifolia in Sichuan clearly do occur in huge numbers as does the high altitude M. horridula on large tracts of the Himalayas.  Many other species are very localised however.  It may be that many populations are relics from past ice ages where presumably plants in much of the area simply went down hill in the cold.  An interesting species which makes on think is M. sherriffi.  This is a localised plant in Bhutan but there is a photograph in Eiko Chibas' lovely book of plant portraits ' Where The Blue Poppies Bloom ' which always fascinated me and she has confirmed it was taken on a pass near Kanging, Sichuan.  Perhaps there are sites in between ( Joseph Rock found a pink M. integrifolia somewhere ), perhaps it is naturally a scarce plant but maybe it has been over collected in the past for herbal use.

China has a large and significant botanical professionalism and an impressive attitude to conservation but there, as in the West, there will be strong political and monetary pressures for scientific conservation to stand up against.  Hopefully in all the countries with Meconopsis, commercial use of the plants for medicine ( or possible oils in the case of Meconopsis ) will fade away as Western medicine can be afforded or else where plants are valuable for these reasons they will be cultivated rather than harvested from the wild.  What this is saying is that publishing very detailed descriptions of where plants are is probably not sensible.

We who love to have the precious plants to adorn our gardens will have to make much more effort to understand how to maintain them in cultivation and which parts of the world this is most likely to be successful, especially with the monocarpic species that need to be renewed from seed and must be grown in isolation to stop hybridisation.  Where seed may be legitimately and legally collected in the wild, it would be well to collect a very few seed pods and scatter the vast bulk of the seeds around the parent plant.  Even where there are many plants and they are being collected professionally, a good proportion of seed should be scattered.  A little Meconopsis seed goes a long way since germination should be very high.  I am shaken how poor germination often is with seed from exchanges.  I am sure the main reason is seed collected before it is ripe.  Capsules need to be opened naturally and be shedding seed and this takes weeks after the flowers have gone.  Seeds need to be stored cool ( below 10C ) and dry.  It is well to remember that most commercial seed collected in 2009 will not be in packets for sale until 2011 - which explains a lot.  There are exceptions to ease of germination - M. quintuplinervia is a pig to germinate ( and needs better understanding ) and M. punicea needs sowing as soon as ripe ( it will germinate the following spring ) and there may be others.