Friday, 6 January 2006

Big Blue - Deciduos

M. grandis seed pods. This species has recently been the subject of a long and fascinating paper by Chris Grey-Wilson (with a cultivation account by John Mitchell of the RBGE) in SIBBALDIA 8.
He recognises ssp. jumlaensis - a dwarf outlying population isolated in West Nepal near Jumla, ssp. grandis - east Nepal especially south and east of Everest and M.g. orientalis from north and east Bhutan, adjacent Indian territory and adjacent Tibet. This last is the one commonly in cultivation and includes the famous L and S 600.
Absolutely superb image of Meconopsis betonicifolia (This would now be M. baileyi if you accept the new classification of Chris Grey- Wilson -which the webmaster does not). This from the Rong Chu in Tibet. It is variable in the wild especially as regards stigma length which can be non-existant or several millemetres. The flowers are smaller than M. grandis (next image) BUT the defining characteristic is the betony like leaf shape with neat indentations down the leaf.
Garden image of M. grandis. This again is a very variable plant ususally easy to distinguish from M. betonicifolia from leaf shape BUT very easily confused with the many hybrids between these two species. This normally has white filaments to the anthers.M. simplicifolia. THIS HAS 2 DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERS -Blue filaments to the anthers and it is always scapose. This species like the previous two can often be purple flowered. This colour can be attractive or rather 'washy'. The leaves are simple strap-shaped but the plant is very variable to big robust specimens that can be perennial to small delicate plants that may always be monocarpic. There used to be in cultivation an exquisite brilliant blue form that was monocarpic but it has been lost for many years. In the wild a particular population is consistent to size and other chracteristics. I suspect like many of this genera lower altitude plants may be easier in cultivation although this species has never been common even in Scottish gardens. Wonderful image by Margaret Thorne in Bhutan
Another critical image. Meconopsis LINGHOLM. This is an exceptional poppy which first appeared in a garden in the Lake District of England many years ago. It arose from a fertile seed pod on the normally sterile M. x Sheldonii - so is technically a form of x. Sheldonii. This in turn is a hybrid made a number of times between M. betonicifolia and M. grandis (called M. x Sheldonii after the man who made the first cross). The progeny were sterile since the latter has twice the chromosome number of the former. Research has shown Lingholm has double that number of chromosomes and is now fertile.Meconopsis betonicifolia. Readers should be aware that this species has recently been split by Dr. Grey-Wilson (Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society, vol.77,no 2 June 2009). This is a garden image. The leaf to the left shows the classic betony shape. The outlying Yunnan population is now called M. betonicifolia and the Tibet population is M. baileyi. Grey-Wilson lists 9 differences. 3 of these are based on leaf dimensions where there is overlap in herbarium measurements but much more variance when garden plants are measured. Yunnan plants are stoloniferous BUT so are some forms in cultivation. The Yunnan plant flowers without a leaf whorl but the images in the wild and many plants in gardens will also show flowers without a leaf whorl. The style length, stigma length and capsule size are much more variable in the wild and gardens than Grey-Wilson states.
Beautiful wild image of M. betonicifolia in Tibet. Typical foliage, flowering from a stem leaf rosette and typical flower at very best. In Tibet flowers range from having no style (like a true Papaver) to at least up to 6mm. It appears that different areas in this region have plants that though consistent to area, are very variable in many flower and capsule characteristics. There are wild images from this region (unlike this plant) where flowers are borne from the upper leaves of simple stems with no upper rosette and plants like this regularly occur from seed (especially weakly growing ones) . Since Kenneth Cox brought back new seed from this region of this species there is much more variation in garden populations especially as regard to style and stigma measurements. As far as I am aware nearly all the plants from this collection were monocarpic but they arrived during three years with hot summers.This is in a way a critical image in the argument about 1 species or two. The left leaf is the hairy seed pod of the Tibetan form of M. betonicifolia (the other is the hybrid Lingholm).[The style on this specimen is more than 6mm. long BUT some, especially those in cultivation for many years can have no style at all] Taylor 70 odd years ago acknowledged capsule hair differences between the two populations, but even here claimed among herbarium specimens of the Tibet form some were virtually hairless and some of the Yunnan form did have sparse hairs. M. punicea, M. quintuplinervia and M. grandis are all reported to have hairless ovaries in some collections. It seems a trivial character to separate two species. TO ME IT MUST BE AT LEAST LIKELY THAT THIS WAS AN EASILY PROPAGATED form that was taken down the trade route from Tibet through Yunnan and established there. Remember there is evidence that some populations of M. grandis are closely associated with settlements, past or present and both species were clearly of great economic significance for oils and/or as medical herbs.
This is an image from Geoff Hill of what is known as M. betonicifolia forma pratensis. This was originally found in North Burma by Frank Kingdom-Ward and described in 1927. I grew this 40 years ago and it was a tall straggling plant with clear close affinities to M. betonicifolia. It was sterile. It is by no means clear if this plant or the ones I used to grow were in fact derived from Kingdom-Wards or why they became sterile.The leaf of M.b. forma pratensis from Geoff Hill. Different but with obvious similarities to the species.
Seed capsule of the pratensis form from Geoff Hill with a long style and large stigma, the capsule shape is typical M. betonicifolia.The leaf of M.b. pratensis, again from Geoff Hill. The purple colour and to some extent the leaf shape are more typical of the L and S 600 form of M. grandis - see later pictures this section.
An image from John Mitchell of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh taken in one of the well known locations for M. betonicifolia. This plant looks to be without an upper rosette but close examination will show both plants have lost the top of the flower. If I had been confronted with this plant 'blind', I would have guessed M. grandis as the leaf is really not typical of M. betonicifolia and the flowers are large. Clearly shows how variable this taxon is in the wild and that the ones we grew for many years in the garden were consistent with smaller cup-shaped flowers and stigma flat on the ovary.Another group of M. betonicifolia in SE Tibet taken by John Mitchell of the RBG Edinburgh. Some of these are quite different to images 2 and 7 on this page of robust individual plants. Careful examination of this picture shows plants that have no significant upper rosette.
This is a form of M. betonicifolia grown from seed collected in Assam. An almost white form. A white form has existed in cultivation for many years and breeds true and is interesting in that it has no style at all - unlike the plant illustrated.SLIEVE DONARD
In my judgement the most beautiful of all big blue poppies. This is a form of M. x. sheldonii (M. betonicifolia x M. grandis) Alex Cross made this cross in Edinburgh. He made Ormswell at the same time. Slieve Donard was sent to Ireland and after various name changes became Slieve Donard after the nursery (and mountain!) of that name. It is still a reliable and robust grower and very perennial. It is currently available in the specialist U.K. trade. Growing here at the wonderful woodland gardens at Glendoick - home of 3 generations of the Cox family of Himalayan plant hunters and Rhododendron specialists.
A really beautiful form of M. x Sheldonii which the webmaster had for many years of unknown origin. Evelyn Stevens has renamed many of the big blue poppies both those fertile and infertile probable hybrids. This plant is possibly the one she has named Bryan Conway. Many big blue poppies are described by Evelyn Stevens on the meconopsis group website.A form of M. grandis in the rhododendrons at Glendoick - the home of the Cox family. This garden is open in early summer and tickets for entry can be purchased from the garden centre at the edge of the main road. This species is not always easy from seed primarily because established plants do not always set very much seed. It is nice to have the true species but in fact the hybrid Lingholm is much more easily obtained and better than many forms of true M. grandis.
Many Meconopsis have characteristic spring foliage and this is the distintive emergence of GS. 600. NOW THIS HAS BEEN WRONGLY NAMED for all my time with Meconopsis it should be L and S 600. Ludlow and Sherriff described this in Bhutan before the second world war. It admittedly was found by Sherriff. It is a very mysterious plant since for 50 years anyway it has been totally sterile. There are many clones of this and all are beautiful and very perennial and easily vegetatively propagated. A great many of these have been collected and named in Scotland by Evelyn Stevens and many are illustrated on the Meconopsis Group website. The webmaster has to confess that many of the sterile big blue poppies currently in existance, most look much the same, the same clones differ as to where cultivated and I cannot tell them apart!This is my clone of L and S 600 I was given more than 40 years ago from a garden in St. Andrews and now thriving in Wick, Caithness. This typically shows a touch of mauve in the flower but this varies between sites and seasons. It must have been fertile when collected since many clones were grown from the introduction. It was claimed to be fertile in the 1950s'. However all L and S 600 clones now have hairy seed pods and M. grandis from this area of Bhutan would not and it must have hybridized - which accounts for the sterility. Arguments continue to rage about this remarkable plant and recent expeditions to Bhutan on the Me La have found very similar plants.
Another M. grandis grown from seed of the PSW expedition and in the garden of Ian Scott in Gauldry overlooking the Tay in Fife.SUMMARY - IF YOU HAVE A BLUE POPPY YOU WISH TO IDENTIFY - DOES IT SET SEED?
At the back is a true M. grandis and the foreground is Kingsbarns hybrid -a fertile allopolyploid of M. x Sheldonii and has the same origin as Lingholm - this last is far and away the most likely plant that you will have. These all have large seeds. You need to eliminate M. betonicifolia (characteristic leaf - image 6 this page - as well as a small seed, less than half the size of M. grandis and the fertile big blues.)
There are white forms of big blues in cultivation. M. betonicifolia has a crystalline white form - true from seed. All the others I have ever seen - bar one many years ago - are actually a pale cream (see the image of M.x Harleyana).The plant illustrated came from a batch of Lingholm seed and is one of five I have had from this source. I strongly suspect they are complex hybrids with M. integrifolia /pseudointegrifolia.SUMMARY - IF IT DOES NOT SET SEED
This plant is named Mrs Jebbs after a Scottish gardener from Crocketford many years ago. It is probably the same cross as M. x Sheldonii. It is however rather different, much more closely resembling M. betonicifolia than M. grandis with smaller cup shaped flowers but always a good clear light blue. Many of these sterile cultivars, propagated vegetively, are described on the Meconopsis Group's website. Some gardens have collections of them - notably Branklyn in Perth so excellently run by Steve Macnamara. THE WEBMASTER MUST CONFESS THAT OTHER THAN A FEW VERY DISTINCTIVE CULTIVARS THEY TEND TO ALL LOOK ALIKE TO HIM. THERE ARE MINOR BUT PROBABLY CONSISTENT DIFFERENCES. THE RHS IS CURRENTLY GIVING AWARDS TO A SELECTION OF THESE STERILE HYBRIDS. I certainly cannot tell many of them apart and there is perhaps only one grower who can!! I suspect that that over time the names in commerce will become suspect.