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 pulchra - Hide and Seek with P. gambleana

In 1882, An article was published in the Journal of the Linnean Society titled "On some Undescribed and Imperfectly known Indian Species of Primula and Androsace" by George Watt. It was actually J.D. Hooker that wrote this article in Watt's name, using Watt's notes, though revising them where needed, and with the intention that this would be used in the Flora of British India that was being written at the time by Hooker.

Primula pulchra or not? (Smith collection)
The first new species of Primula described in the article is P. gambeliana (a spelling mistake of P. gambleana) from a collection (Watt 5483) made at "the Tra Cha Kumpa Kubra Rock (Black Kabur?) above Jongri (Dzongri), Sikkim 27°30'29.99"N 88° 9'9.45"E. It grows in moss and often in crevices of steep wet cliffs.

P. pulchra is the second new species described in the article, from a collection (s.n. 12,000 ft) made by Hooker at Lachen, Sikkim (27°43'2.18"N 88°33'29.02"E, probably in the Zemu valley according to Hooker's Himalayan Journals). Also noted is a syntype collection (Watt 5406) made at the upper Ratong Chu Basin, Jongri (27°32'38.68"N 88° 8'4.47"E) for which Watt 5268 is given as equivalent. This location is very close to the type location for P. gambleana.

Both of these species are figured: P. gambleana - Tab I, and P. pulchra Tab II. A (see image below). Hooker makes the comment under P. gambleana in the Flora of British India: "petiole not sheathed at the base as in P. pulchra, which this a good deal resembles".
Drawings from the Journal of the Linnean Society
If you compare the two drawings side by side, there are a lot of similarities between the two species. Both having a sheathing base, but the scales are much larger in P. pulchra. The most obvious difference is the leaf shape with the leaves of P. gambleana shown as orbicular though Smith & Fletcher later described them as "ovate-cordate or ovate-oblong rather than orbicular" and noted that the figure shows the leaves as more orbicular than is usual. The leaf base is described as usually deeply cordate but occasionally truncate. Smith & Fletcher describes the leaves of P. pulchra as oblong to ovate-oblong with a rounded or slightly cordate base. Both species are shown with an obvious scape with 1-10 flowers. The relative size of the plants on the types specimens are similar.
P. pulchra? capsule (L), P. gambleana capsule (R)
courtesy Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Apparently, the most distinguishing feature is the seed capsule which was not known when the two species were described. P. gambleana has a cylindrical capsule, twice as long as the calyx and dehiscing by longitudinal valves. Seen in only one collection of P. pulchra (Tari, Sikkim, no collector) at Edinburgh is a subglobose capsule equalling the calyx dehiscing by a crumbling wall (Section Petiolares type). This collection is of 6 thin, sparsely flowered plants, and none show the sheathing base that is seen in similar plants in the type collections. Is this really P. pulchra in seed or is it another petiolarid species?
Primula sp Yak Desha = P. pulchra Smith?
In about 1985, George Smith made a collection from the area near Kanchenjunga that was identified as P. pulchra. It was awarded a PC in 1991 and may still be still in cultivation. This clone does not seem to produce the tall scapes of the type collection and it makes me wonder if it really is P. pulchra. In addition to this is a recent image from Yak Desha, Nepal which seem to equate to the Smith collection but again does not seem to be the same as the type collection of P. pulchra!

Perhaps the Smith collection is true P. pulchra, but it is important to get it right because it affects other related species P. chamaethauma and P. chamaedoron which have been lumped into P. pulchra by some authorities.

What is needed is lots of images, including the capsules, of both P. pulchra and P. gambelana from Sikkim in the Ratong basin (near HMI Base Camp) and the cliffs around Black Kabur, near Dzongri. Only with this additional information can this puzzle be solved. If you can help, please contact Pam Eveleigh.

Pam Eveleigh © 2017

Photographing Primula in the Wild

Pam Photographing Primula agleniana in Tibet
One of the joys and pleasures of administering Primula World is seeing wild Primula images taken by others while travelling. Not every person is a world-class photographer or owns the best camera equipment, but that doesn't mean their images aren't exciting or useful. Even blurry images taken in poor lighting, can show variation and details of a Primula which can further our understanding of that species. I'm happy to see even one image, but it is always better to see many images of a species. See the Primula World image submission guidelines to see how you can be a part of Primula World. 

There are several key characteristics that when photographed can be helpful in identifying and documenting a species:

Flowers: Since the flower face is the prettiest part of the plant, it is the most photographed. Images can show useful details such as whether the flower is annulate or not, the position of the style, farina presence, hairs in the throat, petal shape and color patterns surrounding the eye. If the flowers are hanging, then don't forget to tilt the flower up to see the face! A thorough study would include splitting the flower open to see inside. It is rare that a single image of the flower face is enough to identify a species.

Flower faces (L to R): P. waltonii, P. bella, P. poisonii
Flowers are usually arranged in an inflorescence and the details of this arrangement and the length of the pedicels (which attach the flowers to the inflorescence) are important. The inflorescence is supported on a flower scape which varies in height and also in texture.
Classic spike inflorescence of P. vialii
with diagnostic red calyces.
Calyx, Tube & Bracts: It is just as important to photograph the back or side of the flower as it is to photograph the front. This shows the calyx, which is the outer most part of the flower (it protects the flower bud) and is composed of 5 sepals. How deeply the calyx is split into sepals and the shape and length of each sepal is very important to see. This view also reveals the floral tube which may vary in length and color. Bracts are modified leaves found at the base of the inflorescence that vary in shape and size.
Calyx, Tube & Bracts:
P. munroi (L), P. longipetiolata (R)
Leaves: It is no surprise that leaves are important in determining a species. They come in a variety of shapes and some species even produce more than one type of leaf during the year. Venation can be seen. Many species have farina on the leaves especially on the lower surface or hairs which may be photographed with extreme close-up lenses. The best leaf images are when a leaf is removed from the plant, with the petiole intact, and both sides are photographed, preferably with a scale.
Leaf studies: P. blini (L), P. advena (R)
Farina: Most Primula species produce farina, a powdery substance that may coat any part of the plant. Farina may be white, cream or yellow and may appear to be absent if washed off by rain.
Glandular hairs secreting farina
Seeds and Capsules: Though it is unlikely that anyone would be able to photograph Primula seeds while in the field, it is possible to do so later. Primula seeds by themselves can not determine a specific species, but it can point to a particular Primula Section.
Primula seeds
Seed capsules can also be used to determine an identification to the Section level. Of course we travel to see and photograph flowers! However, last years seeds capsules may still be present even if all the seeds have been dispersed or perhaps some new capsules are forming. A convenient image to make shows the flowering plant together with the old flower stalk and capsules.
Seed capsules: P. sikkimensis (L), P. calderiana (R)
Habitat and Location: A image of a wider view of the plant in habitat gives us ecological information plus relative plant size and population variation. Knowing the location of where the Primula was photographed in the wild helps me define distribution patterns. GPS coordinates can be determined in the field, or later estimated using Google Earth, but even general locations to the nearest place can help.
P. allionii habitat
Putting it all Together
I'm pleased to see any Primula images, but if you have time, a detailed study like that shown below of Primula boreiocalliantha is the pinnacle of excellence. Even common species need to be documented!

Field Checklist of images:
  1. Habitat – wide view showing the plants and their environment. Note aspect, moisture, base rock (granitic, limestone) and plant associations.
  2. Full plant – with measuring scale to show accurate height (or some indication of size, even if it is a finger or a hand.
  3. Leaf study – If permissible, remove a few leaves from several individuals by gently tugging downward from the stem so that the whole petiole remains with the leaf. Observe several plants and chose leaves showing variations. Image BOTH sides the leaves, side by side, with a scale. Take magnified images of any hairs, glands or pits on the leaf surfaces.
  4. Inflorescence study – Image the flowers from the back or side to show the calyx, bracts, tube, pedicels and upper scape. Note that pin and thrum forms may have different shaped tubes. Pull back a calyx lobe and document any farina inside.
  5. Flower study – Image the front of a pin flower and a thrum flower. If this characteristic is not obvious in the image, then cut a flower in half lengthwise and photograph it. If you suspect the species is homostylous, image several split flowers. If the flowers vary in color and size, and it is permissible, remove a few flowers and image them together with a scale to show relative variation. Tilt up flowers which hang down, to image the face of the flower.
  6. Farina – It can be hard to determine farina color from digital images due to color rendition problems and farina reflectivity. Observe and write down the farina color. Make sure your images show which parts have farina.
  7. Capsule study – If the plant is in seed or old seed capsules linger from previous years, image the seed capsule. Fresh capsules may be cut in half lengthwise to show the internal seed arrangement. Image the height of the scape with a measuring scale as the scape lengthens when the plant is in seed. If possible, show together the whole plant with old seed scape, and new flowering scape.
  8. Leaf rosette – Image the rosette (non-flowering plant is easiest) showing the new leaves unfurling in the center.
  9. Resting buds, bud scales - If the plant is imaged in early Spring, or late Fall, image the resting bud, documenting any farina present. If the plant is in flower, pull the leaves back to show any bud scales or a sheathing base.
  10. Root/stolon study – If permissible, remove a plant from the ground, and image the colors and structure of the roots. Image any stolons.
  11. Fragrance – note the fragrance of the flowers and/or roots and write it down.
* Notes can be written on paper in the field and photographed with the plant. Similarly the display of a GPS can be photographed with a plant if the camera is not GPS enabled.

Remember: Take as many Primula images as you can....and then take one more!

Pam Eveleigh © 2017

Recent New Primula Species (2016)

The New Year is a good time to reflect on what is new in Primula. Although I have made a lot of progress on my Original Description Project, the list of all Primula species is a moving target. In particular, there have been several Chinese species discovered. Changes for 2016 include:
Primula persimilis - from the original publication
Primula persimilis G.Hao, C.M.Hu & Y.Xu - Discovered near Luzhou, Sichuan, this species has white flowers with a tawny, hairy calyx. It belongs in Section Monocarpicae and strongly resembles P. tsiangii, but differs in flower color, capsule shape and length of pedicels and calyx.

Primula scopulicola G.Hao, C.M.Hu & Y.Xu - A new member of Section Monocarpicae from Sichuan growing at the same location as P. persimilis. It most closely resembles P. lithophila which also grows in the same area but has smaller flowers, distinctly petiolate leaves, a campanulate calyx, and the capsule is globose (not cylindrical).

Primula undulifolia G.Hao, C.M.Hu & Y.Xu - A new species from Hunan, named for the wavy and shallow undulations on the leaf margin. It is a member of section Carolinella which is noted for its calyptrate (opening by a lid) capsules and is similar to Primula kwangtungensis but differs by its smaller flowers and narrowly oblong leaves with an undulate margin.

Primula wawushanica G.Hao, C.M.Hu & Y.Xu - This species was listed in my 2015 year end post, but it had not then been officially published. It belongs in Section Petiolares, Subsection Davidii and resembles P. fagosa and P. epilosa but is distinguished by sessile leaves, smaller flowers, shorter scape at flowering and a calyx split to 1/3. See the original description for images.
Primula calderiana subsp. bawaii
Primula calderiana Balf.f. & R.E.Cooper subsp. bawaii Bawri, Gajurel & M.L.Khan - Differs from P. calderiana subsp. strumosa (P. strumosa) by having efarinose leaves, the calyx cut slightly deeper into lobes with an cute apex, and emarginated petal lobes. it is unclear how this subspecies differs from P. strumosa var. perlata or the yellow form of P. tsariensis.

There are also a series of newly described subspecies published in Primulaceen-Studien, which I don't currently have a copy of. They include:
Primula hirsuta All. subsp. brevipilosa Kress
Primula hirsuta All. subsp. longipilosa Kress

Primula intricata Gren. & Godr. subsp. alpina Kress
Primula intricata Gren. & Godr. subsp. bergidensis (Kress) Kress
Primula intricata Gren. & Godr. subsp. impigrorum (Kress) Kress
Primula intricata Gren. & Godr. subsp. patens (Kress) Kress
Primula intricata Gren. & Godr. subsp. subcordata (Kress) Kress

Happy New Year and Best Wishes to All in 2017!

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

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