Wednesday, 5 January 2005

Meconopsis betonicifolia


The best known blue poppy and well established in cultivation. Two forms exist from Tibet (the one in cultivation – fruits long, narrow and bristly) and in western China (fruits fatter, oval and smooth). They are separated as well by the leaf arrangement; particularly there is no false whorl of leaves below the flowers in the Chinese form. The leaf shape also reliably separates this species from M. grandis. Often perennial in the garden for many years but seedlings very often die after flowering and recently re-introduced seed from Tibet also produced plants that died after flowering. The seed is half the size of M. grandis - this species has about double the chromosome number of M. betonicifolia. There is a great deal of information on this species and M. grandis on the website of the Meconopsis Group as well as a huge amount of information on hybrids and strains of these plants.

Readers should note that the Meconopsis group has accepted the split of M. betonicifolia back to that species in China and M. baileyi for the Tibet plants. This is as it was before Taylor lumped them together. My suspicion is still the possible explanation that at some time in the past that the Chinese form, which appears easily propagated by runner, was taken there for cultivation. Meconopsis produce masses of large seed in quite hostile environments and this seed certainly was used for oil extraction. Although Forrest and others sent home much seed from China this was not established and even with a recent collection only a single seed germinated. Now wild collected seed is often gathered unripe and does not germinate, so too much weight should not be placed on this; though I doubt this would have applied to Forrest seed.The suggestion here is that they may be clones and although many such plants do not set seed there are some Meconopsis that do set seed but which appears to have a very low viability. Dr. Grey -Wilson discusses this split in the June 2009 Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society and lists 9 differences. Most of these do probably overlap and contrary to this article hybrids have been raised in Alaska. The seed pod shape and particular degree of spinyness may be the most critical. There certainly were Tibetan origin plants that were stoloniferous though not to the degree found in the Chinese form. There are many most excellent images and a comparison on the Meconopsis Group website which is essential reading if you are interested in this ( these ) species. Considerable variation in many characters can be seen on my website even within the Tibetan population.


There is detailed information on cultivating these plants on the Meconospis Group website which readers should look at (Web address on main page of this site). Seed from seed exchanges usually germinates well but commercial seed usually at least a year old sometimes does not. Persist since it should not be a difficult seed to germinate. Many plants of this species die after flowering as biennials though not all. Opinion is divided about pinching out the flower buds in the first year. My opinion is not to and try to get two plants to flower and set masses of seed for sowing the next year. Sowing immediately has been advocated but rapid germination is usual and small plants do not easily winter. It might be an advantage to a professional nurseryman since with care it would give good plants to sell the following summer.

Map Location

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