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.

New Flora of Nepal

At present, the only online information on Primula specific to Nepal is in the form of an online checklist at Efloras.

That is changing with the new Flora of Nepal project, created by a partnership between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, several Nepalese institutions: Government of Nepal; Nepal Academy of Science and Technology; Tribhuvan University, and the University of Tokyo.

The website is available at

This new flora will be published in a ‘dynamic flora model’ so that if new specimens/information means an update is required, then that information will be incorporated into the accounts and the newest versions will be made freely available online as pdfs in the PDF account library

The account of Primulaceae is not completed, and there is no completion date available, but other Families are done such as Papaveraceae which includes the popular Genus Meconopsis. The Online Flora Accounts provides a clickable key which leads to a taxon description, distribution map, notes and lower taxon. Extensive field work is accompanying this Flora, and specimen data, both new and historical, can be mapped in Data. Some Blog posts about the field work are on the Botanics Stories webpage at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh website.

It will be wonderful to have this new Primula knowledge base available.


Britain and Tibet by Julie G. Marshall

I finally finished going through this book! It isn't a book that you read, not one with a story, but rather it is a list of publications where the subject is the relationships between Britain and Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan from 1765-1947. There are 4020 references listed and they are grouped according to area, people and time period. Why was I looking through this? Because this is a great resource to find obscure journal articles about early exploration in the Himalayas. Often these articles have maps drawn from the geographical knowledge of the time and are annotated with place names as they were know then. This is very helpful when you are trying to trace the locations for Primula collections made in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many of the places have changed names or don't exist any more. Also these articles detail the common routes travelled in those days and this also provides a clue as to where Primula collections have been made. Of course many of the references are not available online, so it is quite a process to find ones of interest. Thankfully each section in the book has a preamble about the subject of the references that follow and most references are detailed with a short note on the contents and any maps included.

Many interesting articles can be found in "The Geographical Journal" which can be accessed through JSTOR. If you sign up for a free account you are able to view up to three articles at any given time every 14 day period.

Another source of articles is "The Himalayan Journal" which can be accessed through the Himalayan Club. Unfortunately, with a recent reorganisation of their archive, images accompanying the articles are no longer available. However the excellent website "PAHAR mountains of Central Asia Digital Dataset" has old journals including this one with the images. This site also has an extensive library of old maps.

Joseph Rock

Joseph Rock (1884-1962) was a botanist and explorer whose connection to Primula is through his botanical collections made in SW China (Yunnan, Sichuan, SW Gansu, E Tibet), Burma and Assam. He collected Primula rockii which is named for him but he also made type collections of P. cerina, P. chlorodryas (now a subsp. of P. dryadifolia), P. coelata, P. fernaldiana, P. saturata, P. tangutica var. serrata, and P. stenocalyx var. luteo-farinosa. He made many more collections of already described Primulas which at present are not available online (as they are not types) with the exception of the Paris herbarium (not searchable). Through the Smithsonian Institution's Field Book Project, Joseph Rock's Field Notes from 1923, collections 8035-9999 and 1928-1929 collections 16000-18850 are online. Joseph is famous for his articles which appeared in National Geographic in 1924-1935 and are available through the National Geographic Virtual Library (may be accessible through your public library for free). Apparently the Royal Geographic Society in London, England has a set of Rock's hand drawn maps (if you have access to these, please email me), and also there are maps available through Harvard (see below).

Si La
How amazed and delighted was I to be standing on the Sila (pass) 28° 2'42.52"N 100°46'8.86"E this spring (2014) which Rock crossed on his way between Youngning and Muli. This is a difficult place to get to and I was hoping that we may find P. gentianoides, a synonym of P. tongolensis, as this pass may be Kingdon-Ward's "summit of the forested range near Yungning" where he collected the type specimen. Unfortunately we had no luck finding this rare species in the short time we had to explore this place.

    Other resources:
    1. Michael Woodhead's Blog In the Footsteps of Joseph Rock. He is coming out with a book soon.
    2. Images by Joseph Rock.
    3. Maps drawn by Joseph Rock.
    4. A small write-up on Joseph Rock is on the Field Book Project's blog.
    5. Another write-up which includes a timeline from 1905 to 1962, from the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.
    6. An article on The botanical Legacy of Joseph Rock.

Style Position

A feature of primulas is their heterostyly nature. Almost all Primulas have a pin form (where the level of the stigma is above the anthers) and a thrum form (where the level of the stigma is below the anthers).
Thrum and Pin forms of Primula polyneura
Pin and thrum forms of Primula polyneura
As such, this wouldn’t then be something that would distinguish a species, but a few species are homostylous – that is the stigma and anthers are at the same level. There are long homostlye and short homostyle forms with the level of the stigma and anthers correspondingly high or low in the flower.
Homostyle Primula cuneifolia subsp. saxifragifolia

Homostyle Primula halleri

Examples of Primula homostyle species include: P. simensis, P. cuneifolia subsp. saxifragifolia, P. grandis, P. dumicola, P. klaveriana, P. septemloba, P. homogama, P. hookeri, prenantha, P. annulata. Some species can have heterostylous and homostylous forms including: P. obconica, P. chungensis, P. cockburniana, P. prolifera, P. halleri.

Location, Location, Location

Real-estate agents often advertise the value of location when selling property. Similarly, location is an important piece of information when trying to identify Primula. GPS coordinates give an exact location which is useful when trying to locate a plant again, but even a general location such as the name of a pass can be useful. If we select images from several people from several locations of the same species, we can plot a distribution for that species. If we are trying to identify images of a species and we know it come from a certain location, we can compare with species found at or near that same location to narrow down our possibilities. We can also give herbarium sheets a fabricated coordinate so that type locations can be compared with new sightings. Lastly, we can look at distributions of sightings and question those that seem far beyond the normal range to cross check identifications.

Locations for Primula Images - each marker may represent over a thousand images

The Genus Primula L. in India : A Taxonomic Revision by S.K. Basak, G. Maiti & P.K. Hajra

A new Primula book has been published in 2014 on the 106 species of Primula in India. I must admit, I was thrilled to find out about this new book and eagerly anticipated its arrival at my doorstep after ordering from Vedam Books. It now is available through other book sellers such as Koeltz Scientific Books. The price is over $120.00 US.

The book’s contents evolved through a PhD thesis of one of the authors, Dr. Sandip Kumar Basak, and the material is broken into chapters: introduction; historical background; materials and methods; gross morphology; pollen micro-morphology; seed morphology; systematic treatment; classification and discussion, with the bulk on the contents contained within the systematic treatment. Unfortunately there is repeated material in the introduction, historical background and discussion, and these chapters would have benefitted from better organization. Even in the chapter on gross morphology we find oddities such as farina characteristics listed under “Habitat”. Description is repeated at the Genus, Subgenus, Section and Species levels and each species description is so detailed that the sheer amount of material presented makes it difficult to deduce which characteristics are most valuable. The black and white line drawings presented for each species are exceptional. Generally, the taxonomy follows J. A. Richards. The authors present six black and white SEM images and the description of pollen for 15 species but there is no interpretation of the data. Similarly, 173 black and white SEM images of seeds are shown, and the characteristics for 59 species and subspecies are described. Near the back of the book are 95 images of nomenclatural type herbarium sheets but they are usually of small thumbnail size and almost all of such poor quality that little useful information can be discerned. Given that very high resolution herbarium scans are available freely over the web from herbariums such as Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Kew, the British Museum and Paris; it is puzzling why the authors didn’t print better quality images. It seems this rich source of information was neglected in this study.

This book is worthwhile for those who are involved in more serious study of Primula, and could be useful to those who are interested in identifying species encountered while travelling. 

Species contained in the book:
agleniana, arunachalensis, assamica, atrodentata, aureata, bella, bellidifolia, bhutanica, blandula, boothii, bracteosa, calderiana, calthifolia, capitata, caveana, chumbiensis, chungensis, clarkei, clutterbuckii, concholoba, concinna, cooperi, crispata, cunninghamii, denticulata, deuteronana, dickieana, drummondiana, duthieana, elliptica, elongata, erosa, euosma, falcifolia, filipes, firmipes, flagellaris, floribunda, gambeliana, geraniifolia, glabra, glandulifera, glomerata, gracilipes, griffithii, hazarica, heydei, hookeri, ianthina, inayatii, irregularis, jaffreyana, khasiana, kingii, klattii, listeri, macrophylla, malacoides, megalocarpa, melanodonta, minutissima, mishmiensis, mollis, morsheadiana, munroi, muscoides, nana, nanocapitata, normaniana, nutans, obliqua, obtusifolia, petiolaris, polonensis, prenantha, primulina, prolifera, pulchra, reidii, reptans, reticulata, rosea, rotundifolia, sapphirina, scapigera, schlagintweitiana, septemloba, sessilis, sherriffae, sikkimensis, silaensis, smithiana, soldanelloides, spathulifolia, stirtoniana, stuartii, tanneri, tanupoda, tenella, tenuiloba, tibetica, vaginata, walshii, waltonii, wattii, whitei.

Primula ambita in the Wild

Primula ambita was first described by I.B. Balfour based on specimens collected by Jean Py on behalf of Father Ducloux in 1909 in the region between Kunming and Dali, Yunnan. In 1915, it was collected by Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti and described by him as the synonym Primula flavicans. The book “A Botanical Pioneer in South West China: Experiences and Impressions of an Austrian Botanist During the First World War” by Handel-Mazzetti is an English version translated by David Winstanley of the original “Naturbilder aus Sudwest China” (1927), written in German. In this book Handel-Mazzetti’s routes and experiences are detailed. His account of P. flavicans says that he climbed up to the summit of Taohua Shan, 300m above a temple and that the mountain was made of sandstone rocks covered in oaks. It was there he encountered P. flavicans and also the Bullatae species P. ulophylla. A footnote given by Winstanley at this point says “ONC H-11 (map) shows two summits, one 3085m 17km NE of the town (Yanfeng or Beyendjing) and the other of 3662m 33km to the NNE. Perhaps Handel-Mazzetti climbed the wrong mountain.”
Armed with this information, and deducing that Yanfeng is near Baolian about 89kms NE of Dali, Jens Nielsen travelled the area in November, 2012. Though the day was late, he managed to find P. flavicans near the town of Santaixiang and secure a few seeds. These were later grown by Kevock Nursery and one resultant plant in full bloom caused a stir at the Chelsea Flower show in 2014. In the Spring of 2014, I travelled to the spot indicated by Jens and found that a flash flood and subsequent cultivation had destroyed the habitat in the small gulley. However a search of a nearby gulley revealed plenty of plants growing on a steep bank. Seeing this species in the wild revealed previously unknown details that the leaves are vaginate at the base and that the capsule is calyptrate.
The actual mountain that Handel-Mazzetti climbed is undetermined, but I believe it is the closer mountain near Tanhuaxiang. A day hike up that mountain was unsuccessful in locating P. flavicans or P. ulophylla though it was only after we were back down that we noticed a temple on the east side of the mountain which could be the one mentioned by Handel-Mazzetti. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to explore the area closer to the temple. See images in the Species Gallery of this lovely species.