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The species of Meconopsis
(Photographs mostly taken in the wild)

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  • George Taylor's Classification of Meconopsis species may be helpful.
  • Figures in parentheses in the text refer to the pictures

Meconopsis baileyi (M. betonicifolia of hort.)

Until very recently, the plants illustrated on this page were known by the name familiar to every Meconopsis enthusiast, that is, as Meconopsis betonicifolia. But as the result of a recent reassessment by Christopher Grey-Wilson (2009), this name has been changed to M. baileyi. The name M. betonicifolia is now to be applied solely to a closely related species. Details of how these changes came about are outlined in the supplementary page MM. baileyi & betonicifolia reclassification. Diagnostic details defining both species, as given by Chris Grey-Wilson, are also tabulated on this page. Further relevant pictures, enabling comparisons to be made, are available on the page for the species M. betonicifolia.

M. baileyi is often reported to be monocarpic, but in cool, damp climates such as central Scotland, it is soundly perennial when grown in a semi-shady position in moist, humus-rich soil, and builds up to form substantial clumps (see pictures C.1 and C.3 below).

In the wild, this species grows in damp, mossy, open woodland and stream-side habitats at 3000-4000m in south-east Tibet. The pictures below were taken by several photographers in different locations in SE Tibet. They give some indication of the variability to be seen. Another example of variability is seen in plants grown in the garden from wild seed collected in Assam. These plants flowered in 2006 - see below. They proved to be monocarpic.

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1. S of Nyima La (W of Mt Namcha Barwa), Milin County SE Tibet
3500m In a fir forest
20 June 1997
Photographer: Toshio Yoshida

2. S of Nyima La, (W. of Mt. Namcha Barwa) SE Tibet
3600m In a fir forest
22 June 1997
Photographer: Toshio Yoshida

3. Serkyhem La, Linzhi County SE Tibet
3800m at forest edge
20 June 2005
Photographer: Toshio Yoshida

4. W of Doshong La, Milin County (near Mt. Namcha Barwa)SE Tibet
3600m at edge of a shrubbery
28 July 1998
Photographer: Toshio Yoshida

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5. Rong Chu SE Tibet.
Photographer: Anne Chambers

6. Rong Chu SE Tibet
Photographer: Anne Chambers

7. Tsari Chu, SE Tibet
Photographer: Anne Chambers

It was from the Rong Chu that Frank Kingdon-Ward collected seed and introduced this species into cultivation in 1924

Variability either side of the Serkyhem La, SE Tibet
The photographs below were taken on a trip led by Harry Jans and John Mitchell from Chengdu in Sichuan to Lhasa in Tibet in July 2009. M. baileyi was seen in two locations - 20km apart, on the east and west sides of the Serkyhem La in SE Tibet. They were surprised by distinct differences in the plants from the two sites (Site 1 and Site 2 respectively). Some, at least, of the differences can be seen from the photographs. Also interesting was a single plant with pinky-purple flowers seen at Site 2 (17 & 18). Has this colour variation ever been seen in the wild before? It brings to mind the colour of the cultivar M. baileyi 'Hensol Violet' which has appeared in cultivation in recent years.and which reputedly comes true from seed. (See supplementary page on M. baileyi in cultivation.)

Site 1

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9. Clumping habit
Photographer: John Mitchell

10. Narrowish petals
Photographer: John Mitchell

11. Dense, short bristles on the capsules
Photographer: John Mitchell

8. Note "false whorl" and bristly fruit capsules.
Photographer: Bill Terry

Site 2

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13.
Photographer John Mitchell

12. Is this a rhizomatous or clumping habit?
Photographer John Mitchell

14. Is there a false whorl here?
Photographer John Mitchell

15.
Photographer John Mitchell

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16. Capsule differs from those in Site 1 (picture 11)
Photographer John Mitchell

17. Plant with pinky-purple flowers. Also note fruit capsule
Photographer John Mitchell

18. Plant with pinky-purple flowers.
Photographer: Eric Breed

M. baileyi of gardens compared with Site 1 plants
The photographs below show the close similarity between the Site 1 plants above and M baileyi as seen in cultivation. Site 2 plants are less similar. The differences apply, but perhaps even more so, to M. betonicifolia from Yunnan.

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C.4. Note: Bristles, shape and style length of capsules
Photographer: Evelyn Stevens

C.3. Root system lifted to show clumping habit
Photographer: Evelyn Stevens

C.1. Clumping habit
Photographer: Evelyn Stevens

C.2. Note: False whorl and short style
Photographer: Evelyn Stevens

M. baileyi grown from seed collected in Assam

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A.3 Flower buds within the false whorl. Points to note about the leaves: firm texture, shape and leaf margin indentions

A.1(left) & A.2(above) Developing flower stem from basal rosette of leaves.

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A.4 & A.5 In flower
Note more than one flower arising from the false whorl.