Sunday, 15 January 2006

Identifications - News

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.