Primula longipinnatifida

Primula blinii has numerous synonyms reflecting the variability of this species. One of the synonyms cited in the Flora of China is P. longipinnatifida F.H. Chen. This species was collected by T. T. Yü, NW of Wa-Erh-Dje, alt 2800m under woods in 1937. It was described in the article “An Enumeration of Primula Collected by Mr. T.T. Yü From Northwestern Yunnan” by Feng-Hwai Chen in Bull. Fan Mem. Inst. Biol., Bot. 1940. In the original description, Chen compared the specimen to Primula incisa Franchet which is a synonym of P. blinii. P. longipinnatifida was distinguished from P. incisa by having longer pinnatifid leaves, membranaceous in texture and by the smaller corolla tube. Chen cited Yü 6146 in the Herbarium, Yunnan Bot. Inst. (now KUN - Kunming Institute of Botany) but this is an error and the correct collection number is 6046.
Yü 6046 - Photo P. Eveleigh, courtesy Kunming Institute of Botany
Yü 6046 label - Photo P. Eveleigh, courtesy Kunming Institute of Botany

So why discuss this? In 2014 I visited the Kunming herbarium and looked at the holotype specimen of P. longipinnatifida. I was quite surprised that this species was so distinct, especially when compared to the type specimen of P. blinii. The leaves are so dissected they almost defy description. The texture of the leaves is like tissue paper and are not like those of P. blinii, rather they resemble P. runcinata which has leaves that aren’t quite so deeply pinnatifid and which has a different (racemose) flower arrangement.
Yü 6046 inflorescence detail - Photo P. Eveleigh, courtesy Kunming Institute of Botany

Yü 6046 leaf detail - Photo P. Eveleigh, courtesy Kunming Institute of Botany

Wa-Erh-Dje (now Waerzhai) monastery 28°31'53.51"N 100°55'9.06"E was one of three royal residences of the Muli King and was visited by Joseph Rock and illustrated in The National Geographic Magazine in July 1931. Rock described the location of the monastery as “3 days north of Muli”, Muli being the old site of Muli monastery not the present day town named Muli which is 50kms to the SE. Muli county is considered a Tibetan autonomous county within the Province of Sichuan and was an independent kingdom until 1950.  The present day county is split into three districts following the three most important monasteries: Muli, Kulu (Kangwu) and Wachin (Waerzhai). Travel in the northern part of Muli is restricted but foreigners are allowed access to the southern part though it is considered dangerous to travel there with its history of revolts and bandits. Some modern images exist of Waerzhai showing the old monastery ruins and the modern replacement. 

There is no indication by Yü how far to the NW of Wa-Erh-Dje the specimens were collected though the monastery is at 3300m and the collection altitude of 2800m is reached quickly in that direction as you descend to the river valley. Kunming herbarium has other specimens from Muli collected by Yü in the same year filed under P. blinii but unfortunately they are not imaged online so it is impossible to tell at present if they show plants closer to P. longipinnatifida or P. blinii (in the original sense).

This is one of those species that we need more information about and images from the wild showing population variation would go a long way to determining it's relationship with other species. We can only hope that someone will find this species again in the near future.


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