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.