M. 'Bobby Masterton'

Need for the Study Group

The Meconopsis Group was founded in order to study various aspects of the genus Meconopsis, including identification and nomenclature, and cultivation and propagation.. In particular, much of the work has concentrated on resolving problems arising from the confusion of hybrids in cultivation

Identification and naming problems
Meconopsis grandis, M. baileyi (M. betonicifolia of hort.) and M. simplicifolia were introduced into cultivation from the early years of the 20th century. By the end of the century it was clear that there were problems in identification and nomenclature concerning the "big perennial blue Himalayan poppies". Clearly the species M. grandis, M. baileyi and M. simplicifolia, and probably others as well, had crossed haphazardly when grown in close proximity in gardens, thereby creating a range of sterile hybrids over the previous 80 years or so. Whilst some of the hybrids had been named, others had not. Also detailed descriptions and illustrations of named hybrids had been rather haphazard such that true identities were often in doubt. Not in doubt was the fact that individual sterile plants could often be traced back for 40 – 50 years and this in itself is quite remarkable. Of more recent appearance in cultivation were fertile hybrids. These are now raised annually in large numbers from seed.(e.g. M. ‘Lingholm’.)

The Meconopsis Group set about devising procedures to attempt to clarify the identities of the plants and to rationalise the nomenclature.

Meconopsis grandis
Meconopsis baileyi

Cultivation and propagation
Meconopsis are not the easiest of plants to grow and therefore another aspect of the work is to study and report on cultivation needs. The Group is also studying methods of propagation, both vegetatively by division, which is the only method available for the sterile hybrids and for the fertile forms, from seed. Characteristic differences between fruit-capsules and between seeds are illustrated below.

M. baileyi
M. grandis
M. 'Lingholm'
fruit -capsules
M. 'Lingholm' (top) & M. baileyi seeds

A third important aim of The Meconopsis Group is to work on conservation. Conservation concerns are important for three main reasons. First, many of the plants are outstanding sterile perennial clonal plants which have been in cultivation for many decades, e.g. M. ‘Slieve Donard’. Second, some are very attractive perennial species which are tricky to grow and require dedication on the part of enthusiasts to grow and maintain in cultivation, e.g. M. delavayi. Third, others are monocarpic and therefore need to be constantly propagated from seed, e.g. M. wallichii, M. prattii. Some in the latter category are challenging to grow, e.g. M. superba.

M. wallichii
M. prattii
M. integrifolia
in W.Szechuan
M. superba

Solving the problems of identification and nomenclature
The procedures which have been adopted to clarify the identities and nomenclature of the big perennial blue poppies are outlined below.

Identification trial beds
Plants have been sought from as widely as possible of old, long-standing clones, ideally with a name attached. These have been generously donated by many of the members. The plants have then been placed, purported like-with-like, in an Identification Trial Bed for comparisons to be made by an assessment committee of experts from the Meconopsis Group. By such means, the aim has been to clarify the identities of the plants and then to sort out their nomenclature.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh generously supported the Group by providing two beds in their nursery to be used as Identification Trial Beds and by looking after the plants. One bed was devoted to long-standing old sterile hybrid clones. The second was used to investigate the seed-raised big perennial blue poppies (e.g. M. 'Lingholm') being raised and sold abundantly these days in garden centres and nurseries.

Phenotypic studies
An important aspect of the work is detailed comparative study of the morphology of the plants at all stages of their life-cycles. This involves note-taking, photography both in garden and studio settings, computer scanning of various plant structures and the preparation of pressed specimens. Standard specimen portfolios are being assembled for eventual deposition in appropriate herbaria.

It is invaluable that members of a number of recent expeditions are being able to study and report on various species of Meconopsis growing in the wild. The wealth of pressed specimens from past expeditions is also being studied and compared with recent wild material and with current garden plants.

Identification trial bed at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Pressed flowering shoot of M. 'Jimmy Bayne'
Fruit-capsule of M. baileyi (left) and three of M. 'Lingholm'

The Group has been fortunate that Chris Brickell, Chairman of the International Commission for the Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) has given much guidance and advice on nomenclature. He advised devising a naming scheme involving the Group concept to facilitate this. This advice was accepted and the categories on the right were agreed to accommodate the plants under consideration:

The species - for example M. baileyi
The sterile clonal cultivars so distinctive that placing in a Group was unnecessary. Example: M. 'Willie Duncan'
George Sherriff Group - Group for the sterile clonal cultivars previously known by the invalid name M. grandis GS600. Examples: M. 'Ascreavie', M. 'Jimmy Bayne'
Infertile Blue Group - Group for the remainder of the sterile clonal cultivars. Examples: M. 'Slieve Donard', M. 'Mrs Jebb'.
Fertile Blue Group - Group for the fertile, seed-raised cultivars. To date, the most significant is M. 'Lingholm'. See Plant Portraits.

Progress on plant identification and nomenclature as outlined above has progressed well so far. For additional information see Genus, particularly Section 4, Big perennial blue poppies and its supplementary pages Identification and naming and Table of approved names. The supplementary page Classification and Groups gives further details of the classification scheme. The recommendations of The Meconopsis Group were incorporated into The Plant Finder as from the 2002-2003 edition and this includes an entry for Nomenclature Notes. The Group has been appointed the International Cultivar Registration Authority (ICRA - see ICNCP) for the genus Meconopsis. Other approaches for confirming and extending the work on identification and nomenclature which are being pursued are DNA analysis and cytological studies on the number of chromosomes possessed by the plants.

M. 'Lingholm'
Basal leaves of M. baileyi
M. 'Ascreavie'
Young leaves of M. 'Willie Duncan'
Garden setting

 Copyright © The Meconopsis Group                                        Acknowledgements