Wednesday, 17 April 2013


M. dhwojii. One of the evergreen monocarpics. Recently recollected. Typified by foliage and spines with purple pigment round the base. Similar to M. gracilipes.

M. discigera. This is one of six species in a different section that is distinguished by a flat disc between the style and the ovary. Until recently there were only two  Discogyne, M. discigera and the rare high altitude species from near Llasa called M. torquata. M. discigera I grew for some years and eventually flowered -but not easy here but rare and localized M. torquata would be very difficult. Of the new ones described M. tibetica is reasonably low altitude with maroon red flowers and I have flowered it but without setting seed.  There is a problem with many of the Meconopsis under regions controlled by the Chinese. They have a substantial history of herbal medicine. In the past much of this would have been collected and used locally. There is no doubt that most plants have evolved complex chemicals and indeed much has been and is used in western medicine. In China the use many natural products of plants and animals is built into their economy and way of life but with areas now opened up with easy fast access, over collection and exploitation is already a problem. To be fair the Chinese have many really good plant scientists but who tend to concentrate on useful plants and they also have set aside large areas as reserves. Outside Chinese influence Bhutan has very strict controls on its flora and a ban on collecting anything. Increasingly much of the rest of the Himalayas that is accessible is beginning to realize the value of intact wildlife as a tourist asset which is pleasing but of course the downside of this that tourism makes great demands on all sorts resources in many different ways.

M. gracilipes. An evergreen monocarpic with divided leaves –like an M. dhwojii without the purple pigment. The trouble with both these species is that they hybridize with other evergreen monocarpics and the progeny are sterile. The cross between M. dhwojii and M. ‘napaulensis’ is M. x. ramsdeniorum which has little value and is sterile. Crosses between species that produce sterile hybrids are a real long term problem with keeping species in cultivation long term. Doing this may be an important conservation tool long term and needs serious thought.

M. grandis. The ultimate big blue poppy. For people who want big blue poppies in their garden this is not the solution. The hybrid Lingholm is easy, very perennial, comes easily from mass produced seed and is the solution used in some hot parts of the USA to allow plantsmen to have big blue poppies. There have been a number of wild collections of this species. I still grow the dwarf growing Sikkim form and the very large Kanchenjunga form KEKE with flowers 10 inches across. I have grown other forms but here anyway they gradually became less fertile. Grows much better in Caithness where I maintain mine but possible in all of north Britain. Has a slightly strange and discontinuous distribution in the Himalayas. (I am not certain if the early Sikkim form did actually come from there – it resembles the out lying subspecies from Jumla in west Nepal.) Chris Grey-Wilson has published a recent paper splitting M. grandis into 3 subspecies.

M. henricii. Have germinated this but not taken it much farther. All these purple flowered monocarpic species from China are difficult except possibly in very northern Europe.

H. horridula. The easiest in the U.K. BUT only if you have the right form. Has now been split into at include at least 9 species, particularly by Yoshida. To be fair George Taylor lumped a lot of these together under M. horridula so it is a case of what goes around comes around! M. prattii which is from low altitude in Yunnan and elsewhere and is extremely easy and the one that will grow probably anywhere in the U.K. It can be a good dark blue with white anthers and is always racemose. It generally flowers as a biannual and there is a white form.
M. racemosa is a Himalayan species that has good blue flowers and golden anthers. At high altitudes above 5,000 metres it is scapose and this is now regarded as the true M. horridula, it has been flowered from plants brought back but they were shadows of the plant in the wild and again emphasise that plants from that sort of height are difficult in the U.K. and as it comes down the mountain it becomes racemose and known as M. racemosa – personally I find this unsatisfactory!  Meconopsis rudis is another common low altitude species from China and easily grown. In theory it is distinguished by purple bases to the spines on broad coarse leaves. I bought wild collected seed of this 3 years ago and about half the plants were absolutely characteristic but the other half just had plain broad green leaves and large golden spines but no purple pigment. Thus the purple pigment is not diagnostic but it is a very distinct taxa. The others which I do not think are in cultivation were largely plants from Yunnan and are really variations on M. prattii with perhaps slightly indented edges to the leaves or wine red flowers. These might possibly be growable but at the moment seed collecting in China is not allowed. Perhaps I should add that separating and naming these various forms is not easy and even serious plant collectors are uneasy about naming some.

M. impedita. Another attractive purple flowered species from China, again a monocarpic winter dormant relative of M. horridula. I have germinated seed but could not take it farther. Has been flowered by the Rankin’s at nurseries near Edinburgh.

M. integrifolia. Taylor considered this a single species but has more recently been split into this and M. pseudointegrifolia. This, like M. horridula complex is probably best considered a super species. In the farthest north in China where it occurs it is dwarf, mainly scapose and a deep rich yellow with upright facing flowers.  As one travels south it becomes taller, more racemose, paler yellow and with drooping flowers. Has been split into sub species by Chris Grey-Wilson but this really does not help since it is almost infinitely variable. In Yunnan I found it at 3,300 metres as typical tall pale yellow drooping M. pseudointegrifolia and as I climbed up to about 4,400 metres it became typical scapose, dwarf and bright yellow with upward flowers! Seed from a lot of the range of this plant is still available and some comes from cultivated plants. It is generally easily grown and I flowered 4 quite different collections last year of M. integrifolia although none were of the classic far north form. Except for the tallest and most straggly pseudointegrifolia it is a wonderful plant to grow and even the former is still well worth it. It is normally monocarpic so reliable seed set in cultivation is important.

M. lancifolia. A very variable purple Chinese relative of M. horridula (is monocarpic with very spiny leaves) Like most of the purple species from this area possible in those parts of Scotland where Meconopsis grow well but not for south of the border.

M. latifolia. To my mind the best of all the species. Easy from seed with large wide prickly leaves and a raceme of large pale blue flowers (another monocarpic M. horridula relative) This comes from Kashmir and may for political reasons be difficult to recollect. A few years ago – quite extra-ordinarily it hybridized with another mec species and the seedlings were sterile and is now almost certainly lost unless plants hang on in parts of Norway. Just a vague hope that someone from Kashmir has relatives in the U.K. who are interested in plants but even so I suspect this species only grows in remote areas. Just maybe there is seed in a seed bank somewhere and could be regenerated in this way!
M. longipetiolata. A tall M. napaulensis type monocarpic evergreen. Meant to be distinguished by long petioles. Not difficult if fresh seed available that is true.