The Truth about the Blue Nivalids (P. farreriana)

Primula farreriana was collected by Farrer and Purdom in the “Ta-Tung Alps, Kansu” in June and July, 1915 (F. 560, Primula No. 29). Ta-tung is a small mountain range east of Qinghai Lake, Qinghai and could be considered a southern extension of the Quilian (Qilian) mountains. Farrer is well know for his descriptive prose, and there are several writings about the 1915 expedition and the Primula itself. His book “The Rainbow Bridge” is a full account of this expedition which started in Sining (Xining, Qinghai) and explored north and slightly east from there. For a few months, Farrer and Purdom made "Wolvesden house" their base and they explored as far to the east as Tien-tang (Tiantangcun) and as far north as Gan Chang Ssu (Ganchankou). Though there is a map in this book, in his “Report of Work in 1915 in Kansu and Tibet” in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society vol XLII, there is a crude map, but with better detailed locations.

Farrer's full description of his discovery of Primula farreriana is worth reading, but who could not covet a plant with flowers "And they are of a loveliness singular and phantasmal in their family, very large and ample and round-faced, of a faint blue lavender so subtle as to be almost a French grey, gradually suffused with a white radiation from the misty bull's-eye of intense black-purple at their throat, which continues down the tube inside and out"? In Farrer's famous book "The English Rock-Garden" there is a black and white photograph taken by Purdom of Primula farreriana in the wild.

Primula farreriana was described by Balfour in 1916 and there are type specimens at the British Museum, Kew, two at Royal Botanic Garden (here and here) and the Smithsonian. Farrer's field note, tells us that this species likes shady crevices (in small soil pockets) on either limestone or granite and that it can form large colonies. This species is more robust that other nivalids with thick stocks of sheathing petioles and bud scales, the leaves are elliptic or oblong-elliptic with an obtuse or subacute apex and with an obtusely denticulate margin. The underside of the leaves is covered in thick white farina, as is the apex of the scape and the pedicels. The flowers are pale lavender-blue, prominently annulate and with a dark purple eye and tube. The bracts are linear with a broad base and the calyx is tubular campanulate and tinged with purple.

It is distinct from other similar species by the corolla lobes which are emarginate (notched), the widely winged petioles, the prominent annulus, long bracts and dark colored calyx. Primula woodwardii grows in the same range and has entire corolla lobes and is more pink in color. Apparently P. farreriana has not been in cultivation. If you have a picture of this species, please contact the webmaster.

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


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