Mm. integrafolia, punicea, sino-maculata in Qinghai

Brief Introduction to the Genus

Perhaps surprisingly, many people are unfamiliar with the genus Meconopsis, and may never have heard of it. The purpose here is to introduce various pertinent aspects of this lovely genus. These are discussed under (linked) sections:

1. Defining the genus Meconopsis within the family Papaveraceae

2. Distribution of the species in the wild

3. Variability within the genus

4. Big perennial blue Himalayan poppies

4. Big perennial blue Himalayan poppies

Introduction to the plants - identity and naming problems - approved names - longevity

The plants that usually come to mind at the mention of Meconopsis are the "big perennial blue Himalayan poppies" and this section sets out to introduce these much-admired and most widely grown members of the genus. The range of plants involved is outlined with a brief account of their introduction from the wild. Also raised are important questions of identities and nomenclature which had arisen by the end of the 20th century because of hybridisation in gardens. In large measure, these questions have now been addressed by The Meconopsis Group and a table of approved names is available. A fuller treatment distinguishing and describing individual cultivars with photographs may be found in Plant Portraits. See also Study Group.

M. 'Bobby Masterton'

Introduction to the range of plants

M. 'Lingholm'

As a name, the phrase "big perennial blue Himalayan poppies" is one that best describes the most popular forms of Meconopsis grown in cultivation. However, the naming phrase has its limitations which are discussed on the supplementary page Name phrase qualifications. The assemblage of plants included within the phrase comprise three species, M. simplicifolia, M. baileyi (betonicifolia of hort.), and M. grandis, together with a rather indeterminate number of important garden hybrids, both sterile and fertile forms.

Portrait picture

The species have been introduced into cultivation from their mountainous Asian habitats at various times over the past 150 years. Undoubtedly, the most significant introductions date from the first half of the 20th century, but even up to this day important new introductions are being made.

M. simplicifolia

M. simplicifolia was the first species to be discovered, as early as 1848, but was introduced into cultivation in the early 1900s. For rather ill-understood reasons, it is not common in cultivation at the present time.

M. baileyi has been known for decades, since 1934, as M. betonicifolia. But recently, (2009), the original name, M. baileyi, has been restored (see supplementary page MM. baileyi & betonicifolia reclassification for more details). It was introduced into cultivation from seeds collected by Frank Kingdon Ward in SE Tibet in 1924. It has remained securely in cultivation ever since and is probably the most widely-grown and popular member of the genus.

M. baileyi

M grandis was first discovered in Sikkim in the 1880s. It is also native to east Nepal, parts of SE Tibet and eastern Bhutan, and, as recently as summer 2004, was also found on the Arunachal Pradesh/Bhutan frontier. The species has been introduced into cultivation from seed on a number of occasions, first flowering in cultivation in 1895. It is a variable species in the wild and may comprise one or more subspecies or varieties. This uncertainty should be clarified when the revision of the genus currently underway is completed. Undoubtedly the most important seed introduction (known commonly as M. grandis GS600), was that of George Sherriff's in 1934 from eastern Bhutan. Plants from this seed collection first flowered in cultivation in 1937 at Branklyn Garden in Perth and at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

M. grandis

The descendants of these plants are still very much in cultivation and form a significant component of the big perennial blue poppy plants in cultivation. However, they are now to be named collectively as M. George Sherriff Group with clones selected and named from within the Group when this is deemed appropriate e.g. M. (George Sherriff Group) 'Jimmy Bayne'. This is because a number of distinct clones are involved.

It has also been acknowledged that to give the seed collection number, as in M. grandis GS600, as part of the name is invalid if they are not the plants raised from the original collection, or vegetative divisions of those plants. It is considered very unlikely that such plants are still in existence. Certainly no claims have been forthcoming. Added to this complexity, for years it has been assumed that GS600 plants are probably hybrids because they are sterile and, as hybrids, should not be given a species name. However, the similarity between these and M grandis, rediscovered in 2004 by Peter Cox on the Arunachal Pradesh/Bhutan border, raises the possibility that they are, in fact, true M. grandis.

The creation of hybrids, by crossing one species with another is a way in which a more extensive range of plants can be provided for use in the garden. Natural hybrids are rare in Meconopsis when seen in the wild and controlled attempts at hybridisation has been limited in cultivation. But when the various species were introduced into gardens and grown in close proximity they had the opportunity, through the agency of insect pollinators, to cross-fertilise one another, resulting in the production of hybrid forms. To judge by the plants seen in gardens at the present day, this obviously occurred but has led to problems of identity and naming.

M. 'Jimmy Bayne' -
George Sherriff Group

M. 'Mop-head'
Note the exceptionally large flowers

M. 'Slieve Donard' at
Dawyck Botanic Garden

But problems apart, hybridisation has been highly beneficial to gardeners. We have a range of lovely plants. Some people are dismissive and say "But they are just blue poppies", but those of us who delight in their beauty are glad to enjoy the more or less marked differences.

It is also worth pointing out that we have reason to believe that some cultivars thrive better in a particular environment, whilst other cultivars are a better choice for different areas. There is also a range in flowering time, so that it is possible to extend the flowering season by a week or two by a careful choice of cultivars. Descriptions with photographs are to be found in Plant Portraits.

Identity and naming problems
During the 20th century a number of names came to be applied to the variety of different plants and these names were to be found in journal and magazine articles, books, nursery lists and at the bases of plants in gardens. These included the following: the species names Meconopsis baileyi, M. betonicifolia, M. grandis, M. grandis GS600, M. grandis Sikkim form, M. grandis Early Sikkim form, and M. simplicifolia, together with names of hybrids M. x sheldonii, M. x sheldonii 'Slieve Donard', M. x sheldonii 'Blue Ice', M. x sheldonii 'Correnie', M. x sheldonii 'Ormswell', M. 'Crewdson Hybrids', M. 'Mrs Jebb', and M. 'Mrs. McMurtrie'. A survey of the plants involved made it clear that by this time much confusion had gradually developed over the identities of these aristocrats amongst herbaceous garden plants, which, through the work of The Meconopsis Group, have been bracketed under the umbrella term "big perennial blue Himalayan poppies". The Meconopsis Group was formed in 1998.with the primary aim to attempt to clarify the situation and to sort out the identities and nomenclature of these plants.

M. 'Mrs Jebb'

Approved names
A survey of the assembled plants was undertaken and on the basis of this a naming scheme was devised. This also took into account the names which usually accompanied donations of plants,. The scheme consists of five categories: species, three Groups and a fifth comprised of plants so distinctive that they were regarded as "stand-alones". Within this framework, identities and names were agreed or are being agreed. Further details may be found on the supplementary pages Identifying and naming and Table of approved names. See also the main page Study Group.

M. 'Crewdson Hybrid'

Misconceptions and questions often arise concerning the longevity of the two most commonly grown big perennial blue poppies, the seed-raised M. 'Lingholm' (Fertile Blue Group) and M. baileyi. Both these are expected to be perennial, but sometimes they disappoint by dying after flowering. The reason may be that the individual plants are inherently monocarpic or there may be a cultural reason. This subject is expanded on the supplementary page Longevity.

M. 'Barney's Blue'
(Flower consistently opens dark pink, lightens in colour and then changes to blue)

This is the end of Section 4; for other sections of Brief introduction to the Genus click on one of the links:

1. Defining the genus Meconopsis
2. Distribution of the species in the wild

3. Variability within the genus
4. Big perennial blue Himalayan poppies

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 Copyright © 2004 - 2012 The Meconopsis Group                                        Acknowledgements