The Truth about the Blue Nivalids (P. melanops)

Habitat of Primula melanops.
Primula melanops is a name which many people know from cultivated plants, but what is the true species? It was first collected by Handel-Mazzetti in Muli, north of Yanyuan, in 1914, but he didn't describe the plant until 1924 using the name P. leucochnoa. By then, Kingdon Ward had also collected the same species (in 1921) from Muli, very close to the same place and it was then described by Smith and Ward in 1923 as P. melanops, and so that name has priority. There is no doubt they are the same species. In 2009, I saw plants which are this species, but unfortunately the flowers had already gone over. What I would have expected to see are flowers of "deep Tyrian purple, black in the centre" as stated in the original description.

Pam photographing Primula melanops in Muli
Richards includes P. melanops in is his broad definition of P. chionantha, a variable complex of plants, stating that the character used to distinguish between P. melanops and P. chionantha is primarily the color of the farina, and is of no consequence. The original description of P. melanops compared it with P. sinopurpurea but the differences were that it was smaller, white farinose on the leaves, flowers deep purple with a black eye and a long capsule to 2.5cm. The plant in flower is 10-15cm and 35cm in fruit.
Primula melanops in Muli
I don’t have pictures of true P. melanops in flower either in the wild or grown from seed collections from Muli. Because Richards lists it as part of P. chionantha, plants from many different locations have been identified as this species. For example, plants from the Beima Shan in NW Yunnan have been identified as P. melanops but other species that are part of the Blue Nivalids have type locations in this area, so it is more likely that the plants belong to a related species, not P. melanops. I have listed Primula melanops separately in the Species Gallery, where you can find links to the herbarium sheets, but Richards’ point may be valid.

This post is one in a series about Chinese blue nivalids. See the introduction post.


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