Sunday, 15 January 2006
This is a new part of the website to create a largely visual way of identifying plants growing in the garden or in the wild.
Recently various authors have started splitting up species, and a few totally new plants have been described. This will make identification more difficult especially for people with a limited knowledge of the genus.The author finds the classic taxonomic keys very difficult and often almost impossible to use. Sir George Taylor in his original monograph created something much easier to understand since he lumped together many similar described plants into a single species. Perhaps the best example was M. horridula which now has already been split back into about 9 species - and growing!. The problem here goes right back to Ray and later Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) who devised the binomial system of plant naming in about 1760 but this was before Darwin appeared on the planet and eventually formulated the concept of evolution. Within Meconopsis some species are fairly fixed with little variation but others are actively evolving and very varied over a very large geographical range. Another example of this is M. integrifolia now split into two species with a new one M. pseudointegrifolia and a number of sub species. The truth here is that this is a very variable plant over its entire range. If you take the extreme high altitude northerly (drier climate) of M.integrifolia, it is radically different from a lower altitude more southerly wet climate plant - M. pseudointegrifolia. I have grown plants from wild seeds ( under various names! ) from this pair from more then a dozen places in China and Tibet as well as having looked at many wild images and there is a complete variation between the two species and no characters reliably separate them. A final examle is the re spitting of M. betonicifolia into that and M. baileyi - going back towards the situation when Taylor lumped a lot togethger. Chris Grey - Wilson describes this split in a recent edition of the Journal of the Alpine Garden Society but in truth the only critreria (out of the nine he gives) is a smooth seed pod and even Taylor acknowledged this but claimed it was not consistent between the Chinese population ( currently M. betonicifolia ) and the distant Tibetan population ( M. baileyi ).
However the aim of this website is not to become involved in taxonomic arguments but simply present the current species in a comparative way.
Although this website is under the control of the webmaster - James Cobb, I hope much of it will be written by outside experts. Prof. David Rankin from Edinburgh University has already been recruited to write up a guide to the blue/purple evergreen monocarpic species and Paul Egan from Aberdeen University the rest of the evergreen monocarpics. Although this website will remain independent it has been cloisely associated with the Meconopsis Group based on the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and in particular the current convener of the group John Mitchell. Alan Elliot now studying Meconopsis at The RBGE has already been immensely helpful in guiding the webmaster on current tazonomy and especially in locating and often copying for me original research papers on the genus.
Saturday, 14 January 2006
Fifty years ago I started training as a botanist in Dundee, then a college of St. Andrews University. To continue with botany and zoology I had to transfer to St. Andrews University itself. At the end of my second year I dropped botany to concentrate on zoology. This was almost entirely because botany in those days consisted almost entirely of rote learning taxonomy while zoology was opening up to all sorts of exciting cell and molecular things. I did however spend much spare time in the botanic gardens and there realized the wonderful diversity of the genus Meconopsis. I did later teach botany at the tertiary level though a colleague in the now biology department described me as just a bl**dy gardener - which probably was quite reasonable ! So I have always found taxonomy a little tedious - to me its function is to ensure anyone, anywhere in the world, in any language knows just what plant one is talking about. Taxonomists however see it as something subjest to constant change as science developes new and ever more complex ways of classifying plants. In theory all new descriptions of plants should be published in refereed journals but given the very, very few real experts in this genus of plants this is unlikely to happen. Taxonomic identification may require access to material that has immature leaves, flower spikes, flowers at various stages of development as well as developing and mature seeds pods and sometimes microscopic examination of structures including ripe seed. The aim of this website is gradually, with help from lots of outside experts, to develope a pictorial site where identification can be achieved with a high likelyhood of success with significant comparative images of all the critical features. How successful it will be remains to be seen but the power of the internet and the digital camera combined with some sort of integrity with those creating the website should allow a successful development. So much for pious good intentions!!
For more expert readers - remember there is much variation in some species - M. horridula group and in new areas these may not have been desciribed though whether they are worthy of being new species is doubtful. Second recently split species like M. integrifolia and M. pseudointegrifolia ( with 5 subspecies ) are almost continuously variable with climate and altitude. There are relatively few hybrids described from the wild. For beginners particularly, identifying garden plants you need to understand the categories ( use this guide ) e.g. which are winter dormant, which are evergreen, also which may be perennial and which are monocarpic ( die after flowering ) and be aware there are all sorts of hybrids and this includes new ones arriving from garden seed you have sown!
Friday, 13 January 2006
Thursday, 12 January 2006
A small species found in Bhutan by Margaret Thorne. She, the web master and Alan Elliot of the RBG Edinburgh looked this up in the herbarium and decided it was M. lyrata but this was not straight forward and this species should be looked up in the main species pages of this website.