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


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