China 2014

Pam travelled to Yunnan, China in the spring of 2014 to hunt for Primulas. Click image for more...

Primula Rediscovered

Primula bracteata and Primula bullata are found in their type locations after 125 years.

Near Lhasa, Tibet

How do you tell the difference between P. tibetica and P. fasciculata?

Primula ambita in the Wild

The first ever cultivated plant caused a stir at Chelsea earlier this year.

New Primula Book

The latest Primula book is a revision of the 106 species of Primula found in India.

Primula Hunting in NW Yunnan

There are many remote places to explore for rare Primulas and NW Yunnan is one of them. The area west of Zhongdian (Shangri-La) 27°50'10.19"N 99°42'15.44"E, towards the Myanmar border and crossing the Mekong (Lancang) and Salween (Nujiang) rivers is prime Primula habitat.

Getting to this area isn't easy, and it is limited to people willing to go beyond road-side botanizing. However there is a Plant Hunting Expedition run by Whistling Arrow going here in 2017*. Simon Crutchley from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will be along as the botanical consultant. If you are in need of an adventure, check it out.

What Primulas grow there?

Starting at the Mekong river valley is the town of Cizhong, home to a Catholic church built under the supervision of Father Theodore Monbeig, and completed in 1911. This replaced a previous church which was located 3kms south at the village of Cigu ( 28° 0'21.07"N 98°53'51.59"E) that was destroyed in 1905. Overlooking Cigu is Thrana "the black nose", an outcrop of rock which is the type location for Primula monbeigii, now considered a synonym of Primula henrici, a woody cushion species with bright rose flowers. No images exist of this species in the wild.
Thrana, above Cigu, location for Primula monbeigii
Straight west and just south of Mount Biluo is the Sila Pass, type location for Primula silaensis, a dainty pink relative of Primula amethystina.

Moving further west, past the town of Bingzhongluo ( 28° 0'57.97"N 98°37'23.26"E) located on the Salween river, rises Mount Kenyichunpo (approx. 5000m). Joseph Rock in 1926 explored its slopes and more recently in 2006 the southern slopes were explored by the Gaoligong Shan Biodiversity Survey around Chukuai lake.
Primula agleniana
This is a fairyland for Primulas! In the meadows grows several species including the stately Primula agleniana, in its white form, sometimes flushed rose, but always with deeply lacerate leaves. Primula biserrata (formerly P. serratifolia), is also here, with unusual flowers having petals with a distinct bar of orange-yellow running from the mouth of the tube to the tip of each petal and an outer edge of white. See image at top. Primula firmipes is also a meadow species.  It is a smaller relative of P. alpicola, The tidy oval leaves have a heart shaped base, the flowers are cream colored drooping bells. A sharp eye will spot Primula muscarioides. This species has a spike of purple-blue flowers on stems to 40cm and in this area the leaves may vary to almost cut-leaved.
Primula dryadifolia
The rocky habitats around the lake are also home to Primulas. Here we will find Primula dryadifolia forming mat-like cushions with dark rose flowers. Perhaps the rarest Primula species to be found here is P. triloba. It was first found north of Cizhong at Londre. The leaves are tiny 6-8mm, each with three lobes, but the plants form cushions 5-10cm across. The flowers are rose with a yellow eye and a hairy throat.

Other species that may be seen are the stunning red bells of Primula valentiniana, the dainty yellow Primula prenantha, and Primula lihengiana, a species recently described in 2009. With this area being little botanized there exists the possibility of seeing other exciting species and even new ones!

* For information purposes only, I am not affiliated with this company.

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Primula whitei or Primula bhutanica?

Primula bhutanica
Primula whitei and Primula bhutanica are members of Section Petiolares whose members have a crumbling seed capsule (rather than the seed capsule opening by valves like most species), and often have dimorphic leaves, that is, leaves of a different shape are produced at different times in the season.
There is much confusion regarding these two species and their relationship to each other and, if indeed, they are actually distinct species.

Primula whitei was described first, in 1911, by W.W. Smith from plants collected by J.C. White (#122) on the Pe-le La, Bhutan 27°32'50.33"N 90°12'57.39"E. The holotype is in Calcutta, CAL0000017397, with a photograph of the type at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, E00024821. Many additional collections were also gathered by Ludlow & Sherriff and R.E. Cooper.

Primula bhutanica was described in 1941 by Fletcher who recognised that some plants collected under P. whitei showed consistent, distinct characteristics separate from true P. whitei. Several collections are listed in the description, but the holotype is Ludlow and Sherriff #1166 from the Choling La, in Eastern Bhutan 27°19'22.59"N 91°46'33.69"E and resides at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh E00024661.

The distinct characteristics used to separate the two species are: the calyx lobes which are entire (undivided) in P. bhutanica and fimbriated (fringed) in P. whitei, and the corolla lobes which are tridentate (three toothed) in P. bhutanica and crenulate (finely wavy) in P. whitei. Both species are blue with a white zone in the center and a yellowish-green eye. The distribution of the two species is split with P. bhutanica occurring further east than P. whitei.

Characteristics of P. bhutanica
Characteristics of P. whitei (courtesy RBGE)
In fruit the leaves of P. whitei have a base decurrent along the petiole and P. bhutanica has an attenuate base with a narrow, distinct petiole. (see illustration below)

In 1947, L&Ss&E observed and collected under #12299 near Tongkyuk Dzong in Tibet 29°57'39.88"N 94°46'49.59"E a population of plants that had characteristics of both species - some plants had tridentate petals and others had finely crenulately toothed petals. They stated in the field notes: "Specimens under this number should not be separated. All specimens were collected in one spot and represent one species."
From John Richards (Spring leaf left, Fall leaf right)
John Richards has discussed these species in the context of the Section in the article "An Account of Primula Section Petiolares in Cultivation", J. Scott. Rock Gard. Club 15(3):177, 1977. He noted that "it appears that extensive hybridisation has occurred between P. whitei and bhutanica in a few gardens where they self-sow; the majority of plants now in cultivation seem now to be hybrid, with poor pollen and seed fertility."

So only further observations of plants in the wild will help solve this problem.

The Flora of Bhutan keeps the two species distinct but notes that P. bhutanica may only warrant subspecies status within P. whitei.

The Flora of China (1994) reduces P. bhutanica to a synonym of P. whitei with the explanation given in the Chinese version stating that from observations in the wild and the Ludlow & Sherriff collections 12299 and 12291 show the distinction between the corolla lobes and calyx used to separate the two species is mixed in that population.

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Field Book Project

Field books or notes (and field diaries) are documents written during field research about specimens collected and observations pertaining to those collections. For type collections in particular, they are invaluable as a primary source for understanding distinguishing characteristics, habitat and type locations. They serve a check to verify a herbarium specimen's provenance. 
A published field book by Kingdon Ward
Sometimes these books have been published, but unfortunately these documents are often hidden away in institutional libraries and archives and require special permission for access. As these documents are hand written, they can not be scanned and then interpreted automatically by using optical character recognition (OCR), rather, the interpretation must be done manually.

The good news is that there is a Field Book Project initiative under the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to increase access to these types of documents in digital format. Recently they have teamed up with the Biodiversity Heritage Library to provide central access.

Two field books that have been digitized are of interest to Primula researchers, both by Joseph Rock.
Field book entry by Joseph Rock
The first is Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 16001-18850 from NW Yunnan and SW Szechuan Multi and Konka in 1928-1929. The transcription of the book can be found here. In this book we can find the entry for the type collection of Primula rockii, No. 16451, which was named for Joseph Rock and was collected in the mountains of Kulu, Muli. Other collections of Primula rockii are Nos. 17401 and 17402, and No. 17885.
Primula rockii
The type entry for Primula cerina, No. 17702, found on the Djesi La (29°49'39.42"N 101°46'26.31"E) south of Kangding is also found in this book as is the type entry for Primula chlorodryas (now Primula dryadifolia subsp. chlorodryas), No. 17027, found on the Mekong-Salween divide and the type entry for Primula stenocalyx var. lueofarinosa (now considered a synonym of P. stenocalyx), No. 17520, found on the Minya Konka range and additional collection No. 17549.

Many other Primula entries can be found in the second of Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 8035 - 9999 from NW Yunnan and SE Tibet in 1923. Other field books of Joseph rock exist but have not been digitized.

I certainly hope that other institutions start their own Field Book projects to bring these valuable sources of information to light.

It's About Time

Botanical travel can take you close to home or far away, perhaps, the other side of the earth.  The nearest antipodes to me is Port-aux-Francais in the Kerguelen Islands which would be interesting to visit, but it isn’t a place where Primulas grow. My last botanical trip started in Kunming, China after 23 hours of travel and all I wanted to do after landing was to eat and sleep. But in the list of many things you need to do when you arrive, there is one task people forget to do – set the clock on your camera to local time.
Set the local time on your camera
Why would you want to do that? If you are like me, when you get back home you are faced with the daunting task of organizing thousands of images taken on the trip. With the help of photo manager software you can quickly find that special image later on when putting together a presentation or sharing with friends. Some of these programs are free, others you pay for either by buying outright or by renting monthly. I use Adobe Lightroom.
Exif data
Every time you take an image with your camera, basic information or metadata is stored with that image in exchangeable image file format (Exif). The data includes the make and model of your camera and the date and time the image was captured. Photo manager software allows you to sort based on the Exif data included in your images. You can find all the images taken on a particular date or maybe those taken with a particular camera, if you were using more than one (or a camera and a cell phone for instance). If you haven’t set your camera time, some of your images may appear to have been taken near midnight and others the next day, when in reality all of the images were taken in the afternoon on only one day!  If you can accurately sort the images by time, then it makes it easy to find all the images taken at a particular time and add tags to describe locations and plant names to your images. You can also rate your images. With this done, it is a simple task to find your very best images of a plant taken at specific place.

Don’t forget to set you camera clock back when you get home!

Going around in circles - Primula minutissima, Victor Jacquemont, and Mangled Maps

Primula minutissima
It's my curiosity that not only keeps me interested in studying Primula species, but also leads me to exciting side trails of investigation. Such is the case of Primula minutissima, which I was researching yesterday. Looking at several sources of information, the distribution of the species is given as NW & W Himalayas. As this is a large area, I wondered where the type location was.  Most of the images in Primula World are from the area near Rupin, Nalgan and Hampta Passes in Himachal Pradesh. Looking to the original description in “Prodr. [A. P. de Candolle] 8: 42. 1844”, the location is given as “Ghanti India”. So where is that? Smith & Fletcher don’t mention the exact type location in their description of P. minutissima – only that the type sheet is in the Paris herbarium. Sometimes detailed collection information is given on the herbarium sheet, so I looked to sheets P04544185 and duplicate P04544180 to see if there were clues there. Nothing! According to Smith & Fletcher, Royle first collected this species in Kunawar in 1831, but Duby used Jacquemont’s collection #1537 to describe the species. So that started me down the path of investigation into Victor Jacquemont.
Victor Jacquemont - from Bibliotheque nationale de France
Victor Jacquemont was born in 1801, but sadly lived a short life, dying in 1832 at age 31. Despite his young age, he was part of the intellectual circles of Paris in the 1820’s and his botanical contacts included Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart who worked at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Adrien-Henride Jussieu who worked at the Jardin des Plantes. It was Pierre Louis Antoine Cordier from the Muséum who invited Jacquemont to India, which he accepted, departing in August 1828 and arriving in India nine months later in May 1829. He continued his travels to Delhi, arriving in March 1830, and then he headed north into the Western Himalaya. He made extensive collections and notes of plants (4787 entries at Paris) and animals, made drawings, recorded observations in geology, geography, meteorology and anthropology and famously wrote many letters to friends and family. In March 1832 he became ill and eventually succumbed eight months later on July 30th. Posthumously his notes, drawings and letters were published.

A search led me to Raj Kumar Gupta’s paper "Botanical explorations of Victor Jacquemont (1801-1832) (PDF)" which gives a description of Jacquemont’s life and which includes a simple map of his route in the Himalaya. Unfortunately there is no place marked “Ghanti”. Gupta says that after Jacquemont’s death his notebooks were received in three parts: V1 Calcutta to Delhi and the Himalayas Nos. 101-2528, V2 Punjab and Kashmir Nos. 1-1541, V3 Delhi to Bombay Nos. 1-818 and also a separate volume enumerating his notes on Hortus calcutensis. It is unfortunate that these original documents don’t seem to be online as the connection could be made from the collection number to a date and then location details in his diary. Maybe there is a clue in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle booklet on Jacquemont (published in 1959), but it is not online either. 

Foiled by Google

With such fame, I thought it would be easy to find a map detailing Jacquemont’s route in the Himalaya, but it proved more difficult than I thought. I looked in the books of Jacquemont notes and letters published posthumously (listed below). In one book, I was able to find a mangled map. RANT – all very nice that old books are scanned by Google (and others), but maps are rarely unfolded and scanned so all we see is a tantalizing piece of a mangled map! Eventually I found a version of the book with the map scanned properly - but the map isn't of sufficient resolution to read the names.

That meant I had to look for other sources of maps from that time period. One of those sources is "The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories: A Geographical Account" by Frederic Drew but once again the maps were scanned in a mangled version. However, I was rescued by PAHAR, which keeps a digital dataset of old maps, specifically those from the Indian subcontinent, pre 1899. Drew's maps didn't help, but the 1874 map "Route Map For Western Himalayas and N India by Montgomerie" was promising but too complex to read. Another map included in "Victor Jacquemont dans l'Himalaya (1830-1831)" by Emm. de Margerie has a map of Jacquemont's route in Kashmir (page 402) but it isn't of high enough resolution to view.
The Buspa Valley from Sungla by Samuel Bourne 1865
Going back to the Jacquemont books, I was able to find references to "Bouroune-Ghanti", variations on the name's spelling - Bouroune, Bourando or Burunda, and where it was located. Some more searching led me to the earlier spelling of "Boorendo" and the paper "Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass" by Lloyd and Gerard and a simple map showing the pass connecting the Pubbur (Pabar) and Buspa (Baspa) river valleys. Now it all becomes clear and I find I have travelled in a circle...we are at Rupin Pass! According to Montgomerie's map Burunda and Rupin passes may lie side by side, possibly with Burunda at 31°23'15.44"N  78° 8'43.83"E and Rupin at  31°21'7.21"N  78° 9'18.02"E.

Of course, that's what I discovered yesterday. Perhaps more information will come to light another day...

  1.  Correspondance de V. Jacquemont avec sa famille et plusieurs de ses amis: pendant son voyage dans l'Inde, 1828-1832 (various editions).
  2. Letters from India: describing a journey in the British dominions of India
  3. Voyage dans l'Inde.