M. baileyi seedlings

Cultivation, Propagation

Meconopsis are not as widely grown as their attractiveness suggests they deserve. They have the reputation for being difficult, some certainly are, and some have proved, so far, impossible. But with understanding and knowledge, success with the more amenable ones should be possible, and to help in this way is the purpose of this part of our site.

Cultivation and propagation are described in four (linked) sections.

  1. Cultivation: growing the plants in the garden

  2. Vegetative (asexual) propagation

  3. Raising from seed (by a number of knowledgeable contributors)

  4. Diseases (under construction)

3. Raising Meconopsis from seed (by a number of contributors)
On the subject of growing Meconopsis from seed, in particular, there appears to be a certain mystique felt by gardeners at large. The questions most frequently asked about Meconopsis are about how to raise them from seed. Some people certainly appear to be more successful than others, but for reason(s) that are not immediately clear. It therefore seemed sensible to ask a number of gardeners known to enjoy success to outline their techniques, and their thoughts on the most important factors to obtain success. We are grateful to these growers for their co-operation and contributions. They are listed below, together with links to the supplementary pages giving the contributions in full.
There is also an excellent article by Tom Pollard from the "The Lakeland Gardener" available for downloading.

Summary A brief distillation of the main points made by our experts is given here. But readers are urged to obtain further information and insight by making sure to read the individual contributions.

  1. After harvesting, store seed, cleaned and dry in a sealed container in a domestic fridge. Storage in a cool room for a few months is also likely to be satisfactory. By and large, commercial seeds can usually be expected to be less viable than home-collected seeds.

  2. The type of compost used for seed germination is not too critical. A peat-based one is most usually used. An important feature is for it to have high air porosity. The incorporation of a lot of grit enabling minimum root damage when pricking out is also preferable.

  3. Sow seed in Dec - Feb onto the surface of moist compost in trays or plastic pots. (M. punicea must be sown when freshly-harvested and it must experience a period of freezing in winter for germination to occur). Water the pots from below (avoids seed disturbance), or from above with a fine spray. Either leave uncovered, but more usually growers cover the seed with several mm of fine grit or a little sieved compost. Keep in a light place - usually a cool greenhouse or frame. Sometimes pots are placed on a heated bench (around 15C), or out-of-doors. Never allow surface to dry out, especially after germination has taken place.

  4. Germination takes two weeks to several months, sometimes occurring in the second year. It is common to find that certain of the more tricky species are reluctant to germinate, others not at all so. The tricky species are also difficult to bring to flowering, e.g. M. lancifolia, M. sinuata, M. delavayi , and M. speciosa and the high altitude form of M. horridula.

  5. Damping-off can be a problem. The chances of this occurring should be minimized by sowing thinly and keeping the pots in a well-ventilated situation. Very dilute fungicide applied on first observing the problem can help.

  6. Prick out seedlings at the two or three leaf-stage. Avoid damaging the stem, by handling the leaves only. Transfer gently to the same light compost, avoiding compaction. Keep in a shady place until growth has resumed. Keep the plants growing actively, and repot before the pots become root-bound. It is important not to let the plants suffer a check in growth.

  7. Transfer to larger pots or into the garden when large enough. For some people, probably depending on climate, this is summer, late summer-autumn or the following spring.

Seed capsules of
M. 'Lingholm'

Thinly sown seed may be left uncovered or given a thin covering (e.g. fine grit, compost or vermiculte/perlite).

The following (linked) supplementary pages were written by various expert members and give advice on growing from seed.

  • Ian Christie, Christies' Alpine Nursery, Angus, East Scotland
  • James Cobb, author of the book 'Meconopsis' (1989), East Scotland
  • Leslie Drummond, who has successfully made a range of hybrids, East Scotland
  • Bill Terry, who is carrying out experiments for us involving raising Meconopsis from seed, near Vancouver, British Columbia

In addition to these, in 1999 The Meconopsis Group held a symposium on raising Meconopsis from seed. Talks were contributed by three other growers:

  • Graeme Butler, Rumbling Bridge Wholesale Nursery, Kinross, Central Scotland
  • John Mattingley, owner of a well-known plantsman's garden at Cluny, Aberfeldy, Perthshire
  • Margaret and Henry Taylor, well-known for alpine gardening prowess, including raising alpines from seed, near Dundee, Scotland,

For details see the reports of these talks written by Paul Matthews (Curator, Glasgow Botanic Garden) who also analysed the results of a questionnaire sent to members.

Article by Tom Pollard
An excellent article by Tom Pollard on growing Meconopsis at Holehird Gardens was published in the autumn 2007 issue of The Lakeland Gardener. This article is largely concerned with raising the big blue perennial poppies from seed. Other aspects of the cultivation of Meconopsis are also discussed.

Holehird Gardens, home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society, is situated above Windermere and is unique in being maintained entirely by volunteers and supported by voluntary donations. Tom Pollard has been Chairman of the Society and is now a Vice President. Since retiring as Chairman he has been a driving force in promoting training in propagation for LHS gardeners.

The article is available for downloading in pdf form MeconopsisLHS.pdf.
We are grateful to Tom Pollard and the Editor of The Lakeland Gardener for permission to include it here. For further information on the Society see www.holehirdgardens.org.uk.

Warning: Possible misidentifications of M. baileyi (betonicifolia of hort.), M 'Lingholm' and M. grandis, and misconceptions in recognising properly developed seed.

Two of the most commonly grown Meconopsis are M. baileyi and M. 'Lingholm'. At the present time M. grandis is not often available (although often M. 'Lingholm' is still offered erroneously under the name M. grandis). These plants are often misidentified, both at the mature plant stage and as seed. However they possess a number of distinguishing features. The latter, as regards the seeds and seed-capsules, are discussed here.

M. 'Lingholm' seeds (left) are much larger than M. baileyi seeds (right)

The fruit-capsules differ in shape being broadly barrel-shaped with a short style in M. baileyi and more elongated, with a long style in M. 'Lingholm'. The bristles which clothe the capsules are also very different being short with a velvety appearance in M. baileyi and much longer and more separated in appearance in M. 'Lingholm'. The seeds also differ. They are small and nearer to spherical (1mm x 1mm) in M. baileyi than in M. 'Lingholm' (1mm x 2mm). Both these taxa, especially M. 'Lingholm' are often offered, in error, as M. grandis.

M grandis is at present not very widely grown. The plants that are currently in cultivation are noted for the large size and glabrous (smooth) surface of the fruit-capsules. But it is known that in the wild the capsules may be bristly and this applies to the capsules of some of the plants raised from recent wild-collected seed (from north east Nepal in 2000). The seeds of M. grandis are large and look identical to those of M. 'Lingholm' (see Plant Portraits for further discussion on the identity and features of M. grandis).

Fruit-capsule of
M. baileyi

Fruit-capsule of
M. grandis

Another problem that is encountered is that abortive, non-viable Meconopsis seeds are often mistaken for good viable seed. Many big perennial blue poppies are sterile and cannot produce fertile seed. Also on occasion, a plant capable of producing viable seed does not do so, presumably because of poor environmental conditions at some stage in development. Good, viable seeds produced by fertile plants may be recognised by their plump and well-filled appearance, whilst abortive seeds (which always occur in sterile forms and may sometimes occur in fertile plants), have an empty, flat, papery or dust-like appearance

Fruit-capsules of
M. 'Lingholm'

Fruit-capsules of
M. 'Slieve Donard'

There are well-developed seeds (see insets) in the M. 'Lingholm fruit-capsules (fertile cultivar), but only abortive seed in M. 'Slieve Donard' (sterile cultivar).

This is the end of Section 3; for other sections of Cultivation, Propagation click on one of the links:

3. Raising from seed
4. Diseases (under construction)

1. Cultivation: growing the plants in the garden
2. Vegetative (asexual) propagation

 Copyright © 2004 - 2012 The Meconopsis Group                                        Acknowledgements