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.

Two Primulas from Everest Epedition of 1921

In 1921, the British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition set off to explore possible routes up Everest. Since Nepal was closed to foreigners at the time, the expedition approached through Sikkim, into Tibet's Chumbi valley, then west to Tingri Dzong (north of Everest), which they used as a base. From here members explored south for routes up Everest including the Rongbuk valley, and Nangpa La. The expedition naturalist, A. F. Wollaston (image above, standing, at left) collected flora and fauna specimens which included two new Primulas; Primula buryana named for one of the expedition members, C. K. Howard-Bury, and Primula wollastonii named for himself. The route he travelled was a loop to the west of Mount Everest, first to Nyenyam (Nyalam) and then through Lapche to the Rongshar valley.

Primula wollastonii
In Howard-Bury's book "Mount Everest the reconnaissance, 1921" on page 298, Wollaston wrote about this side-trip and provided notes on the Natural History of the area. He writes of the discovery of the two Primulas;
"Crossing a pass to the East of Nyenyam, we camped on a level spot covered densely with white primulas (P. buryana) six to eight inches high; and inch or two of snow fell during the night, and so white are these flowers that it was difficult to see them against the snow. Near the top of another pass we found at about the same altitude, 15,000 feet, another primula (P. wollastonii) with three to six bells on each stem, the size of a small thimble, of a deep blue color, and lined inside with frosted silver."
Primula buryana
Using Wollaston's diary (Letters and Diaries of A.F.R. Wollaston) for July 20 (Nyenyam) to July 25, and a map of the expedition (Preliminary Map to illustrate the route of the Mount Everest Expedition 1921) plus more modern maps (NH 45-14 Tingri Dzong), it is possible to find the type locations for these two Primulas. The Tibet Handbook, page 263 describes the route in detail between Lapche and Trintang which where the Primulas were found. Wollaston incorrectly refers to Trintang as Rongshar. The route starts at Lapche (28° 6'56.56"N 86°10'17.96"E), heading NE up the main valley for about 6kms before turning into a side valley going to the SE. Wollaston camped at 15,200ft up this valley where he found Primula buryana. The next day he crossed the Kangchung La (28° 5'35.55"N 86°14'28.97"E) descending into an area of broken up glacier covered in moraine before going over the Kanchen La (28° 4'32.97"N 86°15'9.07"E), where he found Primula wollastonii, eventually crossing "two steep spurs" which are named Oodungpa La and Sobje La and are separated by a small lake. The route then descends directly down to Trintang.

Map of area Lapche-Trintang
The type for P. wollastonii is in Kew K000750421, with a syntype on the same sheet and the type herbarium sheet for P. buryana is also in Kew K000750442. Both are species in section Soldanelloides, which are high alpine species, with bell shaped flowers and pubescent leaves.

Primula buryana var. purpurea
A purple variety of P. buryana was discovered at Michet, Nepal by Sharma July 9, 1932 (#E345a). The collection can be seen at BM BM000521890 or at E E00024733. It Is possible that this represents a distinct species. 

Pam Eveleigh © 2018

Primula sachalinensis

Primula sachalinensis: 
The island Sakhalin lies just north of Japan's Hokkaido and east of mainland Russia. Historically, it has been claimed by both Russia and Japan. For the period of 1905 to 1945, the island was split, with Japan holding the southern portion, and calling it Karafuto. It was during this time, in 1932, that Primula sachalinensis was described¹ by the Japanese botanist Takenoshin Nakai. He cited the type location as "Sachalin: in humidis secus Bakenuma, Hoyankei" and he named M. Gozeki as the collector. Presumably the type sheet resides in TI (Tokoyo) but it isn't online. However a sheet with a part of the type specimen is available at E (Edinburgh) mounted with a second gathering collected 2 weeks later.
Primula sachalinensis at Magunant mud volcano
It is difficult to find "Bakenuma, Hoyankei" on a map since Russia now has control over Sakhalin and Russian names are used. However it is generally accepted that this refers to the Magunant mud volcano, in the Pugachevskie volcano group, at 48°13'41.00"N 142°34'0.00"E. The name "Hoyankei" seems to match "Hoyori village" in the old Japanese Shikuka Subprefecture.

A white form growing at Magunant mud volcano
In 1996, Y. Lee described Primula sachalinensis f. albida, without a type designated. In the same reference, Lee also include an image of a white flowered Primula which he labelled this species, and which was photographed on "백두산" which is Mount Baekdu, now called Paektu located at 42° 0'8.81"N 128° 3'29.81"E on the Korea - China border. As per the discussion following, plants on Mount Paektu are not Primula sachalinensis.

Primula sachalinensis has been considered a variation of Primula farinosa and certainly it is close, but the base of the bracts are gibbose. Regular Primula farinosa does not grow on Sakhalin and Bukhteeva³ noted that these plants growing on freshly ejected mud substrate differed from normal Primula farinosa to such an extent that the classification of Primula sachalinensis as a distinct species, endemic to Sakhalin, was justified. Kovtonyuk included Primula sachalinensis in a genetic study and confirmed it was distinct and more closely related to Primula mistassinica, Primula modesta and Primula incana.

¹ Original description on page 61 within the PDF of Bot. Mag. (Tokyo) 1932, xlvi.
² Original description Fl. Korea (Lee) 1159, without type. 1996.
³ Bukhteeva, A.V., Primula sachalinensis Nakai, the Primula species of the Maguntan volcano, Bot. Zh., 1960, vol. 45, no. 5, pp 746-748.
Kovtonyuk, N.K. and Goncharov, A.A., Phylogenetic relationships in the Genus Primula L. (Primulaceae) inferred from the ITS region sequences of nuclear rDNA, Russ. J. Genet., 2009, vol. 45, no. 6, pp. 663-670.

Pam Eveleigh © 2018

Studying Primula gracilipes

When in Nepal in the spring of 2018, I had a chance to study Primula gracilipes in detail. This species blooms early - I saw it in April. It belongs in section Petiolares and is closely related to several other species which have a similar loose cushion habit and dimorphic leaves (two different leaf shapes are produced depending on the time of year). One of the key features to see when identifying this group of species is the flower scape (or lack of). I used a technique where leaves were removed from one side of the plant to observe this and those leaves were then laid out for imaging. What follows are some of the images I took to document this species. Click on the images for larger sized versions.
An example plant is removed from the soil and measured.
The plant is shown upside down to show the root structure
and the absence of basal bud scales

Leaves removed from one side on the plant, with petioles intact. The leaves are arranged in order of their removal,
outer leaves (left) and inner leaves (right). The leaves are turned over, keeping their placement to show the underside.
Now you can see the internal structure of the plant.
You can clearly see that there is no scape, but that each pedicle comes from the base of the plant. You can see the bracts which are broad at the base and taper to a point.
P. gracilipes produces two different leaf shapes. The form with the long petioles are produced late season so I searched the base of several plants to find last years old leaves.

At a lower elevation I found plants which had bloomed earlier and were now producing this second leaf shape.

An example of farina on new leaves (right)

The flowers are shown from the side to see variation in the calyx. The flower on the right is a "thrum", and you can see the bulge in the flower tube where the anthers are located.

Farina on the back of the flowers
Folding a black velvet cloth, I make a place to hold the flowers upright to show the face.
This allows me to show variation in color and shape.
Using a sharp razor blade, I cut open a flower. This is a "pin" where the anthers are below the stigma.
This is a "thrum" where the anthers are above the stigma.
At lower elevations, plants were forming seed capsules.
Variations in color.
Pale color variation.

Dark color variation.


P. aureata (left), P. gracilipes (right).

P. gracilipes (top), P. deuteronana (bottom).

Comparison of P. deuteronana (left), P. gracilipes (right).
Pam Eveleigh © 2018

Recent New Primula Species (2017)

The New Year is a good time to reflect on what is new in Primula. There have only been a couple of new Chinese species discovered this year:
Primula zhui (by H. B. Ding) - from the original publication
Primula centellifolia G.Hao & Y.Xu - Similar to Primula scopulicola, a species described last year, but with smaller stature, slender scape and a calyx with linear lanceolate and obtuse lobes. From Sichuan and Guizhou.

Primula zhui Y.H.Tan & B.Yang - A new member of Section Carolinella from SW Yunnan. It most closely resembles P. intanoensis, a species from Thailand, and was also compared with P. calyptrata in the original description. 

Happy New Year and Best Wishes to All in 2018!

Pam Eveleigh © 2017

The Mysterious Primula of Omta Tso (Bhutan)

Omta Tso, Bhutan
In November, 2016, I visited the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to study non-type herbarium sheets which are unavailable online. One of the species I wanted to investigate is Primula tsariensis which was described from a collection made in 1936 by Ludlow & Sherriff in the Tsari valley, SE Tibet  28°41'29.98"N 93°23'57.85"E.

It was initially compared with Primula griffithii and P. tanneri but it was distinguished by leaves which are rounded at the apex, bluntly crenulate at the margin and a calyx which is sparsely farinose and glandular. The flowers are described as rich purple.
Primula tsariensis
Going through the herbarium specimens, I came across a folder labelled "P. tsariensis yellow form". What is that?!! All of the collections of this form were Ludlow & Sherriff's from the area near Omta Tso  27°42'54.88"N 90°17'17.96"E in the upper Richen Chu valley, Bhutan. In 1937, Sherriff explored this place and so I traced his 1937 route using his diary and field notes. Sherriff mixed up the names of the two lakes Omta Tso and Thita Tso, so his initial collection #3383 is from the hillsides and shores of Omta Tso (not Thita Tso as stated in his notes). Sherriff gave it the name "Primula strumosa var. nana floribus maximus". Later, W.W. Smith & Fletcher gave it the name "Primula strumosa var. perlata" and in the Flora of Bhutan it is included by that name as a synonym under P. tsariensis. In the genus Primula, there are a number of species which have both purple and yellow forms, so the idea of a yellow P. tsariensis is acceptable.
Primula species of Omta Tso, Bhutan
Continuing to trace Sherriff's 1937 route, I found that he took a two day side trip (July 13-14) from Omta Tso, westwards along the ridge to Chore (I don't have an exact location for Chore, but it would seem to be a yak herder hut at the base of a cliff SW of Omta Tso) and then followed the main ridge south until descending to Maruthang via a steep gully. Sherriff said "I have never seen so many alpines out together as on this march. In places the hillsides and cliffs were just covered with them and the variety was great."
Omta Tso area, Sherriff 1937 - hybrids found along the orange route
Between Omta Tso and Chore, Sherriff came across a little grassy hollow 50 ft. x 50 ft. where there was a swarm of primulas of at least eight shades of colors including yellow, white, purple and blue. These same colors are seen in hybrids where P. calderiana crosses with P. strumosa. Essentially P. strumosa and P. calderiana are yellow and purple forms of the same species, though they have different geographical areas and P. strumosa grows at higher elevations.
Color variations of P. calderiana X P. strumosa
Sherriff knew these were hybrids but couldn't decide which species were the parents. To further complicate matters, Sherriff also found that the yellow, white and blue-purple flowered plants grew in separate masses of one color only. However, the white masses included a few variations of yellow tinged, or blue tinged plants. Sherriff collected what he said was true P. calderiana (L&S 3437) and that it was distinct from the others and not involved in the hybrids. In the field notes, someone (perhaps W.W. Smith) later wrote in the margin "I believe these are normal hybrids of P. calderiana and P. strumosa" and included a reference to hybrid L&S collections from Weitang and Pangotang (Tsampa), Bhutan in 1949, which are unfortunately I haven't seen.

So are the plants at Omta Tso P. tsariensis or are they P. strumosa?

The most obvious differences between the two species are that P. calderiana / P. strumosa smells "disagreeable", and has farina present on the bud scales, and on the upper scape, calyx and pedicels whereas P. tsariensis is not noted for its smell, has efarinose bud scales and only trace amounts of farina on the pedicels and calyx.
Bud scales - (L) no farina, P. tsarieneis, (R) with farina, P. strumosa
Sherriff was limited in his ability to document these plants but certainly more images can shed light on this problem. If you travel to this area and encounter these plants, please take lots of images of the flower color variations, showing the calyx, the basal bud scales, and leaves. And take a sniff!

Pam Eveleigh © 2017