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Meconopsis baileyi (M. betonicifolia of hort.) and cultivars 'Alba', 'Hensol Violet'

Since 1934 the popular and widely grown Tibetan blue poppy has been known as M. betonicifolia. This was believed to comprise both the species as it occurs in SE Tibet and in NW Yunnan. Plants from the latter provenance are virtually non-existent in cultivation. Recent taxonomic studies by Christopher Grey-Wilson (2009), has led him to propose separating the plants from these provenances into two distinct species. These are M. betonicifolia for the NW Yunnan plants and M. baileyi for those from SE Tibet - hence the change in name for the familiar M. betonicifolia. For further details, see MM. baileyi & betonicifolia reclassification. and the species in the wild pages. The new nomenclature is being adopted on this web-site. Both (obviously) species are members of George Taylor's Series Grandes (see classification).

As known in cultivation, M. baileyi does not usually present problems in recognition. The flowers normally have four petals, but the first one or two flowers to open may have more. The petals vary in shape, ranging from broad and overlapping (typically) to narrower and twisted. The flowers are relatively small (7-8cm diam). The dense boss of stamens, with their prominent golden anthers, is large relative to the size of the flower and, typically, the style is short so that the stigma protrudes only a short way through the boss of stamens. The flowers range in colour from sky blue to pale blues, to mauvy-blues. See also pictorial Examples of variability in blue-flowered forms of M. baileyi in cultivation.

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1. Note the many flowers below the false whorl

2.

3 M. baileyi 'Hensol Violet'

A white cultivar, M. baileyi 'Alba' (see below) is also quite common in cultivation. To our knowledge, a white form has never been found in the wild. It comes true from seed. Coming true from seed also applies to a cultivar of more recent origin, namely, M. baileyi 'Hensol Violet' (3 above). This was raised by Lady Henderson at Hensol Castle in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, from Scottish Rock Garden Club seed (erroneously labelled M. x sheldonii), towards the end of the last century. A bed of the plants was noted and liked by a visitor (Les Newby) who drew it to the attention of a nurseryman, Bill Chudziak, who asked Lady Henderson for permission to name it M. 'Hensol Violet'. Bill Chudziak was initially largely responsible for getting it known. It appears to have since become firmly established in cultivation and can be found in seedsmen's catalogues.

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4, 5, 6. M. baileyi 'Alba'.
Note the many flowers below the false whorl in 5.

Perhaps the most reliable features for identifying M. baileyi are the leaves, ovaries, fruit capsules and seeds. The bases of the leaf-blades are typically heart-shaped. (7).and not attenuate as in M. 'Lingholm', for example (8) The ovaries are shortly barrel-shaped and covered with short dense bristles. The styles are also short. The mature fruit capsules (9) are filled with copious amounts of fertile seed (10). The seeds are small (1mm x1mm) and approach spherical in shape (11), these features distinguishing them from those of M. 'Lingholm' and M. grandis which are about 1mm x 2mm in diameter and kidney-shaped (12). A further characteristic of the species as seen in cultivation, and when well grown, is the presence of a number of flowers arising singly in the axils of the stem leaves below the false-whorl cluster of leaves and flowers (1). The latter feature may also occur in the big perennial blue hybrids, but usually less abundantly.

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9 &10. Fruit capsules of M. baileyi.

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7 & 8. The cordate & attenuate leaf-blade bases of MM. baileyi (7 left) and 'Lingholm' (8 right)

11. Micrograph of M. baileyi seeds

12. Seeds of MM. 'Lingholm' (left) and baileyi (right)

M. 'Inverewe'
If this fine cultivar produced fertile seed we would probably have no hesitation in classifying it as M. baileyi. But it is undoubtedly sterile and has therefore been classified as a Cultivar not assigned to a Group.

Propagation and Cultivation
For raising M. baileyi from seed and how to grow it in the garden, see the main pages on Cultivation and Propagation An extra point can be emphasised here. M. baileyi is possibly the easiest of the big perennial blue poppies to raise from seed and to establish in the garden to produce flowering plants. But people often report that plants die after first flowering, i.e. they find they are monocarpic. This does not appear to be true if the growing conditions are suitable. In central Scotland, it is truly polycarpic (will persist and flower many times). There are plants here in a garden in central Scotland which are over 25 years old. The pictures below show convincingly how perennial M. baileyi can be.

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13. Young leaf rosette of a single many-year-old plant

14. Root-ball of a plant showing its perennial, clump-forming habit

15. Base of a flowering stem with four dormant new shoots visible