Meconopsis Visual Reference Guide. Includes Photos, Taxonomy And Cultivation Information.
Sunday, 25 January 2015
Meconopsis delavayi. This is a really beautiful perennial species. It is not easy but is safely in cultivation and seed is occasionally offered in seed exchanges. I grow this in a small bed which gets little direct sun light. Both these images have been given to me. The top is a garden plant and the bottom an image from the wild. It is deciduous but has deep strong tap roots and these have been used successfully to produce new plants from root cuttings. In theory this plant comes from limestone areas but I do not think soil pH either side of neutral is significant.
This is going to be slightly contraversial. There are two very similar species. Meconopsis baileyii and M. betonicifolia. Dr Chris Grey-Wilson, who has written the latest monograph on the Genus Meconopsis recognises these as two separate species based, as I remember, on nine distinct characteristics. There are also sub species, one of which - M. baileyii ssp. pratensis - is very distinct and breeds true. M. baileyii occurs in S.E. Tibet and across to NE India. M. betonicifolia occurs in S.W. China - down in NW Yunnan. My theory, and I doubt anyone has taken any notice of of it (!), is that we know both these species were very valuable for obtaining oil for cooking and other purposes. The site in NW Yunnan where it now grows was on the trade route out of the Himalayas into China and I do seriously wonder if it was not introduced there and cultivated as a farm crop some thousands of years ago. Having got that off my chest we can return to cultivation problems!
Plants grown from recently collected seed from the defined areas can be grown under the correct names. For us gardeners they are very difficult to tell apart and many of the characteristics do have overlap or need a taxonomists eye. They are not difficult and seed which is readily available from some commercial sources but also plentifully from all three seeds exchanges mentioned above. If you really do want to grow the two species and make your own comparisons then you must be certain of your seed sources since they can be very muddled in cultivation. The seed is sown in the standard way. They germinate well and usually prick on and grow on without trouble. It is better, with a successful germination and lots of plants to put out, to dis-bud a small number and these will go on and form nice large perennial clumps for further years which can be divided when dormant as they die back to resting buds. As almost always with Meconopsis you need at least two plants to cross pollinate for a seed set. The Yunnan plants are reportedly stoloniferous. This character when they are happy would allow the easy propagation of plants.
The first species of a series I will recommend for beginners. This is a Himalayan plant quite well established in cultivation. It is related to the Meconopsis horridula complex. It is characterised by flowers usually of a variation on purple/mauve but there are white forms and these are probably still available in seed exchanges. These plants typically germinate fairly easily from seed and then need growing on in a good rich compost. I tend with all Meconopsis to sow seed in pots and then prick on into a tray and plant out as soon as possible and trying hard not to disturb the roots. Planted in good rich soil the will grow on quickly with a rosette up to about 6 inches at best. They are not fussy about soil acidity or alkalinity though I suppose it might just affect the colour. In late autumn they become dormant and retreat under ground to a resting bud on a rather long narrow root - a bit like a carrot. These then re-shoot in early spring and through a flowering spike up to about 1 foot high and flower from top down. Seed pods then form (but you must have more than 1 plant since Meconopsis almost invariably need cross pollination). Seed then can be harvested from the rather prickly seed pods in late November or December once the seed pods have slit open, Store dry and cool and resow the following spring. Photo credits. David and Margaret Thorne
NOTES FOR PEOPLE STARTING ON MECONOPSIS I intend over the next two months to do a weekly note on species ( 1 per week) that are relatively easy in most parts of the United Kingdom. Most Meconopsis grow well in the wetter parts of the U.K. but even here in East Fife within sight and sound of the sea I have no particular difficulties except keeping a degree of humidity in very hot dry summer spells and even then I simply use a sprinkler to damp the surface morning and evening for a few minutes. The soil here is sandy and alkaline but over many years I have top dressed( NOT dug) in compost made by collecting up leaves (only) and letting them rot. At a year old this is sieved and applied to the surface for about 8 cms. deep and will be weed free. Earth worms of course will stir this into the soil. Like this self sown seedlings, especially of orchids can develop and flower.
There are professional suppliers of seed of some species of Meconopsis BUT by far the best source are the seed exchanges of the Scottish Rock Garden Club, the Alpine Garden Society and the Edinburgh based Meconopsis Group. They all run seed exchanges and species of Meconopsis difficult or impossible to obtain from professional sources are regularly offered. Finally there are three basic categories of Meconopsis. 1. Monocarpic evergreen (lovely rosettes over winter) take several years to flower usually with a very tall flowering spike with hundreds of flowers - colours from white through pinks and red to shades of blue. 2. Monocarpic deciduous. Go to a dormant bud in winter and then re -emerge in late spring - may take several years to reach flowering size and then die. M. aculeata is one of these. 3. Polycarpic plants that usually go through winter with a reduced rosette or even no winter leaf but if happy flower every year. Some like the wonderful red Meconopsis punicea do usually not survive flowering but can occasionally and there may be some strains that do. FINALLY Meconopsis almost always need cross pollinating with a second plant so multiple plantings are essential for the long term collection of seed. The only exception I know is M. superba which has set seed for me from a single plant but cross pollination would be best. In FUTURE I will try to be brief with each species!! The first species is Meconopsis aculeata.