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.


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