Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Red / Mauve Drooping Flowers

M. punicea. An unmistakeable species and a true scarlet which is rare in flowering plants. This colour is often associated with bird pollinated species in the Americas (for example scarlet penstemons). However the rest of the flower is not typical of bird pollination since the flower is a fairly open cup (not a long narrow tube) with masses of pollen and not much in the way of nectar. It is likely that it is bee pollinated but in western gardens the flower does not usually open wide and remains drooping and fairly closed. The flowers open from typical sized buds but the very long petals are highly folded and delightfully creased as they open! The flowers in this image are rather more open on a sunny day and a bumble bee could easily pollinate them. However although all flowers have large anthers with masses of pollen from ocre coloured to almost back purple sometimes none of it is shed. This is presumably because either growing conditions or temperatures are not typical of its wild habitat. The larger the plant the more flowers and the greater the chance of pollen being shed. Even so hand pollinating is advised. Visitors to this species in the wild could see if they can identify the pollinator as well as seeing whether the species can be perennial in the wild (see later).
A picture taken on September 10th in 2011 in my garden. This has been a cool wet summer and many plants did not die after flowering and throw these small flowers on short stems. They only have a single tap root and side shoots refuse to root even with hormones, warmth and mist. Every plant the webmaster has had (many) over the years has always succumbed by December. Farrer, who spent a long time with this species in the wild as far north as Kansu, said IT WAS NOT PERENNIAL. There are plants currrently in cultivation that are perennial notably one widely distributed by Ian Christie of Kirriemuir north of Dundee. Visitors to where this grows in the wild should check plants for evidence of a previous years flowering. Flowers at maturity on a warm sunny day with them open enough to allow easy access to a bumble bee. This still however does not explain in evolutionary terms why they are this intense scarlet not a typical colour for an insect pollinated plant.
A recently opened flower inverted. The large size of the flower is obvious. There is almost no style and the large red shaded stigma is surrounded by anthers but there are no obvious nectaries. These anthers have not yet started to dehisce and this takes up to two days even in sunny weather and a proportion never seem to shed pollen though the anthers are apparently quite normal. The pollen can vary from almost yellow to almost black. When all goes well a large plant with 40 flowers can produce substantial amounts of seed,but cross pollination like nearly all Meconopsis is essential. For the webmaster they are the easist species overwintering with invariable success without cover and they look most attractive in a mass planting, which for biennial plants can be very close together.
There have been some variations in cultivation. This is a perennial form produced by the nurseryman Ian Christie from Kirriemuir. They have occured elsewhere but from many thousands grown the webmaster has not produced one. Possibly in some cases hybridisation may be involved. A large flowered but slightly paler form in cultivation.
This colour break occurred in my garden 3 years ago but as I mix seed from various gardens, I cannot be sure it originated here in Fife. It is an odd but unusual colour but I am trying to keep it isolated but I have given much seed and many hundreds of plants away and I know it flowered this colour in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh from my plants this year (2011). I strongly suspect it is a colour break and not a hybrid for a number of reasons. It has identical dimensions and features as the scarlet forms. There are hybrids between M. quintuplinervia (see this page) and M. punicea and have been made many times. They are named M.x Cookei after Randle Cook who first made it many years ago. They are mostly a washy but pleasant pinky mauve but are perennial and sterile. Leslie Drummond of Forfar (Angus, Scotland) has specialized in making Meconopsis crosses and produced many back crosses to M. punicea and produced a perennial scarlet hybrid he calls 7/8th. Some of these are now available commercially. Their virtue is that they are reliably perennial drawing this character and a spreading habit from M. quintuplinervia.
Classic garden image of M. quintuplinervia - the harebell poppy. For very many years this has been easily maintained in cultivation by division of a number of clones that are all very perennial and spreading by stolons. Seed set has been rare but for some years Evelyn Stevens has provided me with some and in 2010 I realized it probably behaved the same way as M. punicea and needed sowing as soon as ripe. This seed germinated well in January 2011 from a July sowing and robust plants are already flowering and the seedlings grew on as rapidly and easily as M. punicea. An image from Martin Walsh, in the wild, of the hybrid between M. punicea and M. quintuplinerva. This is called M. Cookei after Randle Cook who first made this cross in cultivation. There is a great deal of variation in M.quintuplinervia in the wild according to Reginald Farrer who spent much time in its wild habitats in northern China 100 years ago. He described all shades of mauve and purple as well as azure blue, albinoids (white with touches of purple) and a crystalline white. It would be wonderful if some of these could be recollected, especially if they were as perennial and easy as the ones we already have.
This is M. simplicifolia - always scapose. This is an extremly variable plant from big blue forms rivalling M. grandis to really squinny forms of small size and poor colour. The leaf is however fairly characteristic. As this does not overlap in range with M. quintuplinervia and does not have the narrow leaves of that species it should not cause confusion in the wild. M. primulina. A rather small and perhaps insignificant species from the Himalayas (Bhutan in this case). The leaf in this species can be varied but the plant is not scapose even if it has a drooping flower. More detail will be found on the main website on this species. The black style has been photographed and described by Margaret Thorne but I have seen no mention of it before. It is a very striking characteristic but also occurs in M. sinuata.
Meconopsis bella. Another purely Himalayan plant. Found at high altitudes and usually on cliffs, not it meadows. It is always scapose with a few large flowers that can be a pale blue, mauve or pink. Very difficult in cultivation so confusion only likely in the wild but generally a very distinctive (and spectacular) plant. A wonderful image by Martin Walsh. M. delavayi. A drooping purple species from a restricted range in Yunnan. The leaf is glaucous and smooth. It is bright green without significant hairs.
Superb image of a superb plant by Martin Walsh on the Red Mountain in China. This is M. lancifolia. There are a number of purple flowered species in China that are difficult to de-limit to species. Currently Chris Grey- Wilson is trying to sort these out. The usually have soft mauve to deep purple flowers and the spines on the leafs are characteristically softer with fewer thinner spines. Harry Jans image.