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.

Primula Hunting in NW Yunnan

There are many remote places to explore for rare Primulas and NW Yunnan is one of them. The area west of Zhongdian (Shangri-La) 27°50'10.19"N 99°42'15.44"E, towards the Myanmar border and crossing the Mekong (Lancang) and Salween (Nujiang) rivers is prime Primula habitat.

Getting to this area isn't easy, and it is limited to people willing to go beyond road-side botanizing. However there is a Plant Hunting Expedition run by Whistling Arrow going here in 2017*. Simon Crutchley from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will be along as the botanical consultant. If you are in need of an adventure, check it out.

What Primulas grow there?

Starting at the Mekong river valley is the town of Cizhong, home to a Catholic church built under the supervision of Father Theodore Monbeig, and completed in 1911. This replaced a previous church which was located 3kms south at the village of Cigu ( 28° 0'21.07"N 98°53'51.59"E) that was destroyed in 1905. Overlooking Cigu is Thrana "the black nose", an outcrop of rock which is the type location for Primula monbeigii, now considered a synonym of Primula henrici, a woody cushion species with bright rose flowers. No images exist of this species in the wild.
Thrana, above Cigu, location for Primula monbeigii
Straight west and just south of Mount Biluo is the Sila Pass, type location for Primula silaensis, a dainty pink relative of Primula amethystina.

Moving further west, past the town of Bingzhongluo ( 28° 0'57.97"N 98°37'23.26"E) located on the Salween river, rises Mount Kenyichunpo (approx. 5000m). Joseph Rock in 1926 explored its slopes and more recently in 2006 the southern slopes were explored by the Gaoligong Shan Biodiversity Survey around Chukuai lake.
Primula agleniana
This is a fairyland for Primulas! In the meadows grows several species including the stately Primula agleniana, in its white form, sometimes flushed rose, but always with deeply lacerate leaves. Primula biserrata (formerly P. serratifolia), is also here, with unusual flowers having petals with a distinct bar of orange-yellow running from the mouth of the tube to the tip of each petal and an outer edge of white. See image at top. Primula firmipes is also a meadow species.  It is a smaller relative of P. alpicola, The tidy oval leaves have a heart shaped base, the flowers are cream colored drooping bells. A sharp eye will spot Primula muscarioides. This species has a spike of purple-blue flowers on stems to 40cm and in this area the leaves may vary to almost cut-leaved.
Primula dryadifolia
The rocky habitats around the lake are also home to Primulas. Here we will find Primula dryadifolia forming mat-like cushions with dark rose flowers. Perhaps the rarest Primula species to be found here is P. triloba. It was first found north of Cizhong at Londre. The leaves are tiny 6-8mm, each with three lobes, but the plants form cushions 5-10cm across. The flowers are rose with a yellow eye and a hairy throat.

Other species that may be seen are the stunning red bells of Primula valentiniana, the dainty yellow Primula prenantha, and Primula lihengiana, a species recently described in 2009. With this area being little botanized there exists the possibility of seeing other exciting species and even new ones!

* For information purposes only, I am not affiliated with this company.

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Primula whitei or Primula bhutanica?

Primula bhutanica
Primula whitei and Primula bhutanica are members of Section Petiolares whose members have a crumbling seed capsule (rather than the seed capsule opening by valves like most species), and often have dimorphic leaves, that is, leaves of a different shape are produced at different times in the season.
There is much confusion regarding these two species and their relationship to each other and, if indeed, they are actually distinct species.

Primula whitei was described first, in 1911, by W.W. Smith from plants collected by J.C. White (#122) on the Pe-le La, Bhutan 27°32'50.33"N 90°12'57.39"E. The holotype is in Calcutta, CAL0000017397, with a photograph of the type at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, E00024821. Many additional collections were also gathered by Ludlow & Sherriff and R.E. Cooper.

Primula bhutanica was described in 1941 by Fletcher who recognised that some plants collected under P. whitei showed consistent, distinct characteristics separate from true P. whitei. Several collections are listed in the description, but the holotype is Ludlow and Sherriff #1166 from the Choling La, in Eastern Bhutan 27°19'22.59"N 91°46'33.69"E and resides at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh E00024661.

The distinct characteristics used to separate the two species are: the calyx lobes which are entire (undivided) in P. bhutanica and fimbriated (fringed) in P. whitei, and the corolla lobes which are tridentate (three toothed) in P. bhutanica and crenulate (finely wavy) in P. whitei. Both species are blue with a white zone in the center and a yellowish-green eye. The distribution of the two species is split with P. bhutanica occurring further east than P. whitei.

Characteristics of P. bhutanica
Characteristics of P. whitei (courtesy RBGE)
In fruit the leaves of P. whitei have a base decurrent along the petiole and P. bhutanica has an attenuate base with a narrow, distinct petiole. (see illustration below)

In 1947, L&Ss&E observed and collected under #12299 near Tongkyuk Dzong in Tibet 29°57'39.88"N 94°46'49.59"E a population of plants that had characteristics of both species - some plants had tridentate petals and others had finely crenulately toothed petals. They stated in the field notes: "Specimens under this number should not be separated. All specimens were collected in one spot and represent one species."
From John Richards (Spring leaf left, Fall leaf right)
John Richards has discussed these species in the context of the Section in the article "An Account of Primula Section Petiolares in Cultivation", J. Scott. Rock Gard. Club 15(3):177, 1977. He noted that "it appears that extensive hybridisation has occurred between P. whitei and bhutanica in a few gardens where they self-sow; the majority of plants now in cultivation seem now to be hybrid, with poor pollen and seed fertility."

So only further observations of plants in the wild will help solve this problem.

The Flora of Bhutan keeps the two species distinct but notes that P. bhutanica may only warrant subspecies status within P. whitei.

The Flora of China (1994) reduces P. bhutanica to a synonym of P. whitei with the explanation given in the Chinese version stating that from observations in the wild and the Ludlow & Sherriff collections 12299 and 12291 show the distinction between the corolla lobes and calyx used to separate the two species is mixed in that population.

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Field Book Project

Field books or notes (and field diaries) are documents written during field research about specimens collected and observations pertaining to those collections. For type collections in particular, they are invaluable as a primary source for understanding distinguishing characteristics, habitat and type locations. They serve a check to verify a herbarium specimen's provenance. 
A published field book by Kingdon Ward
Sometimes these books have been published, but unfortunately these documents are often hidden away in institutional libraries and archives and require special permission for access. As these documents are hand written, they can not be scanned and then interpreted automatically by using optical character recognition (OCR), rather, the interpretation must be done manually.

The good news is that there is a Field Book Project initiative under the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to increase access to these types of documents in digital format. Recently they have teamed up with the Biodiversity Heritage Library to provide central access.

Two field books that have been digitized are of interest to Primula researchers, both by Joseph Rock.
Field book entry by Joseph Rock
The first is Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 16001-18850 from NW Yunnan and SW Szechuan Multi and Konka in 1928-1929. The transcription of the book can be found here. In this book we can find the entry for the type collection of Primula rockii, No. 16451, which was named for Joseph Rock and was collected in the mountains of Kulu, Muli. Other collections of Primula rockii are Nos. 17401 and 17402, and No. 17885.
Primula rockii
The type entry for Primula cerina, No. 17702, found on the Djesi La (29°49'39.42"N 101°46'26.31"E) south of Kangding is also found in this book as is the type entry for Primula chlorodryas (now Primula dryadifolia subsp. chlorodryas), No. 17027, found on the Mekong-Salween divide and the type entry for Primula stenocalyx var. lueofarinosa (now considered a synonym of P. stenocalyx), No. 17520, found on the Minya Konka range and additional collection No. 17549.

Many other Primula entries can be found in the second of Joseph Rock's field book for collections No. 8035 - 9999 from NW Yunnan and SE Tibet in 1923. Other field books of Joseph rock exist but have not been digitized.

I certainly hope that other institutions start their own Field Book projects to bring these valuable sources of information to light.

It's About Time

Botanical travel can take you close to home or far away, perhaps, the other side of the earth.  The nearest antipodes to me is Port-aux-Francais in the Kerguelen Islands which would be interesting to visit, but it isn’t a place where Primulas grow. My last botanical trip started in Kunming, China after 23 hours of travel and all I wanted to do after landing was to eat and sleep. But in the list of many things you need to do when you arrive, there is one task people forget to do – set the clock on your camera to local time.
Set the local time on your camera
Why would you want to do that? If you are like me, when you get back home you are faced with the daunting task of organizing thousands of images taken on the trip. With the help of photo manager software you can quickly find that special image later on when putting together a presentation or sharing with friends. Some of these programs are free, others you pay for either by buying outright or by renting monthly. I use Adobe Lightroom.
Exif data
Every time you take an image with your camera, basic information or metadata is stored with that image in exchangeable image file format (Exif). The data includes the make and model of your camera and the date and time the image was captured. Photo manager software allows you to sort based on the Exif data included in your images. You can find all the images taken on a particular date or maybe those taken with a particular camera, if you were using more than one (or a camera and a cell phone for instance). If you haven’t set your camera time, some of your images may appear to have been taken near midnight and others the next day, when in reality all of the images were taken in the afternoon on only one day!  If you can accurately sort the images by time, then it makes it easy to find all the images taken at a particular time and add tags to describe locations and plant names to your images. You can also rate your images. With this done, it is a simple task to find your very best images of a plant taken at specific place.

Don’t forget to set you camera clock back when you get home!

Going around in circles - Primula minutissima, Victor Jacquemont, and Mangled Maps

Primula minutissima
It's my curiosity that not only keeps me interested in studying Primula species, but also leads me to exciting side trails of investigation. Such is the case of Primula minutissima, which I was researching yesterday. Looking at several sources of information, the distribution of the species is given as NW & W Himalayas. As this is a large area, I wondered where the type location was.  Most of the images in Primula World are from the area near Rupin, Nalgan and Hampta Passes in Himachal Pradesh. Looking to the original description in “Prodr. [A. P. de Candolle] 8: 42. 1844”, the location is given as “Ghanti India”. So where is that? Smith & Fletcher don’t mention the exact type location in their description of P. minutissima – only that the type sheet is in the Paris herbarium. Sometimes detailed collection information is given on the herbarium sheet, so I looked to sheets P04544185 and duplicate P04544180 to see if there were clues there. Nothing! According to Smith & Fletcher, Royle first collected this species in Kunawar in 1831, but Duby used Jacquemont’s collection #1537 to describe the species. So that started me down the path of investigation into Victor Jacquemont.
Victor Jacquemont - from Bibliotheque nationale de France
Victor Jacquemont was born in 1801, but sadly lived a short life, dying in 1832 at age 31. Despite his young age, he was part of the intellectual circles of Paris in the 1820’s and his botanical contacts included Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart who worked at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Adrien-Henride Jussieu who worked at the Jardin des Plantes. It was Pierre Louis Antoine Cordier from the Muséum who invited Jacquemont to India, which he accepted, departing in August 1828 and arriving in India nine months later in May 1829. He continued his travels to Delhi, arriving in March 1830, and then he headed north into the Western Himalaya. He made extensive collections and notes of plants (4787 entries at Paris) and animals, made drawings, recorded observations in geology, geography, meteorology and anthropology and famously wrote many letters to friends and family. In March 1832 he became ill and eventually succumbed eight months later on July 30th. Posthumously his notes, drawings and letters were published.

A search led me to Raj Kumar Gupta’s paper "Botanical explorations of Victor Jacquemont (1801-1832) (PDF)" which gives a description of Jacquemont’s life and which includes a simple map of his route in the Himalaya. Unfortunately there is no place marked “Ghanti”. Gupta says that after Jacquemont’s death his notebooks were received in three parts: V1 Calcutta to Delhi and the Himalayas Nos. 101-2528, V2 Punjab and Kashmir Nos. 1-1541, V3 Delhi to Bombay Nos. 1-818 and also a separate volume enumerating his notes on Hortus calcutensis. It is unfortunate that these original documents don’t seem to be online as the connection could be made from the collection number to a date and then location details in his diary. Maybe there is a clue in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle booklet on Jacquemont (published in 1959), but it is not online either. 

Foiled by Google

With such fame, I thought it would be easy to find a map detailing Jacquemont’s route in the Himalaya, but it proved more difficult than I thought. I looked in the books of Jacquemont notes and letters published posthumously (listed below). In one book, I was able to find a mangled map. RANT – all very nice that old books are scanned by Google (and others), but maps are rarely unfolded and scanned so all we see is a tantalizing piece of a mangled map! Eventually I found a version of the book with the map scanned properly - but the map isn't of sufficient resolution to read the names.

That meant I had to look for other sources of maps from that time period. One of those sources is "The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories: A Geographical Account" by Frederic Drew but once again the maps were scanned in a mangled version. However, I was rescued by PAHAR, which keeps a digital dataset of old maps, specifically those from the Indian subcontinent, pre 1899. Drew's maps didn't help, but the 1874 map "Route Map For Western Himalayas and N India by Montgomerie" was promising but too complex to read. Another map included in "Victor Jacquemont dans l'Himalaya (1830-1831)" by Emm. de Margerie has a map of Jacquemont's route in Kashmir (page 402) but it isn't of high enough resolution to view.
The Buspa Valley from Sungla by Samuel Bourne 1865
Going back to the Jacquemont books, I was able to find references to "Bouroune-Ghanti", variations on the name's spelling - Bouroune, Bourando or Burunda, and where it was located. Some more searching led me to the earlier spelling of "Boorendo" and the paper "Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass" by Lloyd and Gerard and a simple map showing the pass connecting the Pubbur (Pabar) and Buspa (Baspa) river valleys. Now it all becomes clear and I find I have travelled in a circle...we are at Rupin Pass! According to Montgomerie's map Burunda and Rupin passes may lie side by side, possibly with Burunda at 31°23'15.44"N  78° 8'43.83"E and Rupin at  31°21'7.21"N  78° 9'18.02"E.

Of course, that's what I discovered yesterday. Perhaps more information will come to light another day...

  1.  Correspondance de V. Jacquemont avec sa famille et plusieurs de ses amis: pendant son voyage dans l'Inde, 1828-1832 (various editions).
  2. Letters from India: describing a journey in the British dominions of India
  3. Voyage dans l'Inde.

Primula biserrata is the correct name for P. serratifolia Franch.

I can imagine that in the 1800's it would have been difficult to keep track of the names of new species. If you were lucky the author would have published in a widely available journal or perhaps a colleague would have passed on the information. Or course, it would have been easy to be unaware that a name had already been used when describing a new species and that is the case for Primula serratifolia.
Primula auricula, serrated leaf edge
In 1876, Gandoger described a species called Primula serratifolia, which he thought to be distinct from typical Primula auricula described by Linnaeus. Gandoger quotes "P. auricula Michelet in Billot exsicc. no. 1309 bis, non Lin." The Billot reference is here, though the authority "Michelet" is misspelled, and should be "Michalet", according to the list of collaborators for the publication. The specimen no. 1309 is in Paris, specimen "P04521859", which is incorrectly filed under the name Primula dumicola, and which shows the serrated leaf edge which the name refers to. Michalet does mention that Primula auricula grows at "Baume-les-Dames" in his book "Histoire naturelle du Jura et des departments voisins: Botanique", which is the location where the collection was made. A google search of that location reveals that Primula auricula is common there, though there has been a recent split between northern and southern populations.
Primula biserrata
In 1885, Franchet used the same name "Primula serratifolia" to describe a species from the Cang Shan, near Dali, Yunnan. His description of the species is confusing as he failed to point out the most notable characteristic: the flowers are bicolored, yellow with a white border on the petals (he described them as yellow only). This confusion lead Forrest to believe he had found a new species at the same location, which he described as "Primula biserrata" in 1908. As the name "Primula serratifolia" is already taken, Franchet's description is a later homonym and considered "nom illeg." (invalid). Primula biserrata is the next validly published name and so it becomes the valid name for this species.
Primula biserrata

 Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Sweet Caroline... section Carolinella

Where it began,
I can't begin to knowin'
But then I know it's growing strong

Was in the spring
And spring became the summer
Who'd have believed you'd come along

... Sweet Caroline.*
Primula cardioeides in Vietnam
In 1891, Augustine Henry married Caroline Orridge, though their marriage lasted only three years due to Caroline's tragic death from tuberculosis. Henry's job as a Customs officer lead him to Mengzi (modern Honghe) in southeastern Yunnan. By this time he was well established in plant collecting and his collection Henry 10735 from the forests SE of Mengzi was described as Carolinella henryi, named for his late wife. Though it was thought to be a new Genus, Pax later included it within Primula as section Carolinella and the species became Primula henryi. Unfortunately this name had already been used, so it was given the new name "Primula carolinehenryi" by S.O'Brien in the book "In the Footsteps of Augustine Henry". This name has since been corrected according to the International Code of Nomenclature to "Primula carolinehenryae" as it honors a women.

Primula carolinehenryae E00255693
courtesy Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Two additional Henry collections were described from the area around Mengzi under the genus Carolinella: C. cordifolia (now P. partschiana) and C. obovata (now P. rugosa). The distinguishing feature of section Carolinella is the calyptrate capsule (the capsules don't split into 5 valves as most other species do, or by crumbling, but rather have a lid which lifts to expose the seeds). Some authorities recognise subgenus Carolinella which includes this section. The species in the section are distributed in SE Yunnan, S Guizhou, N Guangxi, S Hunan, N Guangdong, and N Vietnam.

P. rugosa, P. kweichouensis, P. wangii from Flora of China
In 2000 the paper "Pollen morphology in Primula sect. Carolinella (Primulaceae) and its taxonomic implications" was published, with SEM images of 7 species. It was found that there was considerable variation in the pollen morphology encompassing all 3 main pollen types (tricolpate, trisyncolpate and polycolpate) of the genus Primula and that this indicated that the group was heterogeneous.
Primula cardioeides pollen
From Pollen morphology in Primula sect. Carolinella (Primulaceae) and its taxonomic implications
In 2010 the paper "Circumscription of Primula subgenus Auganthus (Primulaceae) based on chloroplast DNA sequences" was published. The result of this study was that species assigned to subgenus Carolinella are dispersed among the species of subgenus Auganthus and that as defined, neither subgenus is monophyletic and it is inferred that the calyptrate capsule has evolved multiple times in the genus Primula. Also P. wangii which was initially placed in section Carolinella, but subsequently placed by Richards into section Monocarpicae, has an ambiguous position.
In 2015 the paper "Non-monophyly of Primula subgenera Auganthus and Carolinella (Primulaceae) as confirmed by the nuclear DNA sequence variation" was published and it is similar to the 2010 study. It was concluded that the calyptrate capsule has evolved independently at least four times in Primula. P. wangii was found to be close to P. kwangtungensis and P. kweichouensis and so together with P. levicalyx (not sampled) this seems to be a distinct group within the section. In 2014, the species P. hunanensis was described and placed in this group and the following key was presented.

The species presently included in section Carolinella are: P. calyptrata, P. cardioeides, P. carolinehenryae, P. chapaensis, P. hunanensis, P. intanoensis, P. kwangtungensis, P. kweichouensis, P. levicalyx, P. partschiana, P. rugosa, and P. wangii. In future, we can expect that the section will be split to follow the results of genetic study. See the Species Gallery under each of these for more information.

* Don't recognise these lyrics? They're from Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline"

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

Thailand - Pagodas, Beaches, Pad Thai ... and Primulas

Primula siamensis
My holiday experiences in Thailand include golden pagodas, sandy beaches, elephant rides and tasty food. It isn't a place particularly noted for Primulas, but they do grow there. In the northern part of the country, near the popular tourist destination of Chiang Mai, is Doi Chiang Dao, a peak of 2,175m (7,136ft), and the home of the first Thai species described in 1922 as Primula siamensis. This is a really lovely species, growing in limestone crevices, with wide open flowers of violet-blue.

Doi Chiang Dao by Adam Baker
Nearby is Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand at 2,565m (8,415ft). The top 700m is the habitat for Primula intanoensis. This is a curious species, part of the little known Carolinella section, with small white flowers, round leaves and calyptrate seed capsules (the capsules don't split into 5 valves as most other species do, but rather have a lid which lifts to expose the seeds). It was mistakenly re-described from the same collections by C.M.Hu as P. larsenii.
Primula caulifera P00649638, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris 
A third species is even more unusual. It is Primula caulifera and it is found further to the south at Tunkamang in the Chaiyaphum district at only 800m elevation. This species doesn't look like a Primula at all, having no basal rosette and a long stem with alternate leaves. The small rose colored flowers are borne on whorls (tiers).
Primula forbesii subsp. forbesii
The last species found in Thailand is an extension of the geographical distribution of Primula forbesii subsp. meiantha. This was initially described as Primula meiantha from Burma, but it was found on Doi Chiang Dao in 2002 and 2005 though a subsequent search in 2009 failed to locate this species again. It is similar to P. forbesii subsp. forbesii (familiar to many as a popular houseplant) but with smaller flowers.

If you are going to Thailand and visit these places, I would be interested in images of these species.

Pam Eveleigh © 2016

The Plant Lover's Guide to Primulas

A new book on Primulas is always welcome! This one is from Jodie Mitchell and Lynne Lawson of the famous Primula nursery, Barnhaven, and it is a Timber Press book that is part of a series produced in association with Kew. It is called "The Plant Lover's Guide to Primulas". My first impression is that $25 US is a very reasonable price for a large format, hardcover book loaded with color images. The authors have a special love of Primula, one that they share through personal reflections at the beginning of the book. They also give a brief history of their nursery, Barnhaven which started in Oregon, but is now located in France. The sections include Designing Gardens with Primulas and Understanding Primulas (with an emphasis on Auricula) before going into details of 100 Primulas for the Garden. This eclectic selection is an interesting mix of species Primula and cultivars, each with a sumptuous image and a description including where to use it in the garden. If you can get through that section without wanting to obtain some of the plants listed, I'd be surprised - I had immediate plant envy! The next section gives necessary details on how to grow and propagate your Primulas and I especially like the section on dividing which is so necessary when growing named cultivars. The book ends with sources of plants and seed, where to see gardens growing Primula and where to get more information about Primulas. If you wanted a good general book on Primulas, look no further. This is the one to buy!

  • Title: The Plant Lover's Guide to Primulas
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 256 pp.
  • Book dimensions: 8 x 9 in. (230 x 205 mm.)
  • Images: 247 color photos
  • ISBN-10: 1604696451
  • ISBN-13: 9781604696455

  • Disclaimer: Pam Received a free copy of this book in return for use of a few images.

    Pam Eveleigh © 2016

    Primula specuicola in Utah

    Primula specuicola goes by the common name of "Easter Primrose" and that's because it blooms at Easter time. This year (2016) I headed south the week before, making the 17 hour drive to Moab, Utah over two days. I had been there the previous October and had seen a few plants just forming their resting buds, but I was anxious to see this species in bloom.
    Primula specuicola growing in an alcove
    It was well worth the drive as the plants were in perfect form. Armed with more information than my Fall trip, I was able to see plants at three different locations and observe their habitat and variations. The most striking observation was how limited their habitat is and how they have no ability to establish in other places as they are surrounded by hostile environments. Though this is a member of Section Aleuritia which includes well known species like P. laurentiana, P. farinosa and P. scotica, it is arguably one of the showiest species in this Section, having leaves covered on both sides with white farina, giving them a silver appearance, and having umbels of soft rose colored flowers in the best forms. See the Species Gallery for lots of images.

    I made the following video to help you understand the habitat of this remarkable species. Don't forget to change your settings to watch in High Definition. Enjoy!


    Pam Eveleigh © 2016

    Primula cusickiana var. maguirei in Utah

    Logan Canyon
    While heading to southern Utah just before Easter,2016, I stopped in to Logan Canyon. The entrance to this canyon lies just beyond Utah State University in the town of Logan, Utah. Scenic byway 89 follows the canyon and the Logan river that flows through this cut in the Bear River Mountains, a branch of the Wasatch Range, right through to Bear Lake. The cliffs are nearly vertical limestone and are home to Primula maguirei. At this time of year, the canyon is still very cold, particularly on the north, shaded side and icy snow lingered on the path. This Primula was just waking up, though we managed to find one plant with a single flower bud, it is obvious that this species won't bloom until much later in May. It was growing as a chasmophyte, in thin crevices in the rock and was difficult to find, being out of flower and the leaves not yet fully expanded.
    Pointing out tiny P. maguirei
    I was curious about this species as it is now considered a variation of P. cusickiana along with P. domensis and P. nevadensis. Certainly without referencing a key and despite the plants being in early growth their close relationship to P. cusickiana was obvious. Noel Holmgren and Sylvia Kelso address this complex of species in their paper "Primula cusickiana (Primulaceae) and its varieties", Brittonia 53: 154-156. The Flora of North America key relies on merely the length of the corolla tube to distinguish the varieties, but the close relationships were determined by genetic study (unpublished, but see also "Are any primroses (Primula) primitively monomorphic?", Mast, Kelso, Conti, New Phytologist 171, issue 3: 605-616, 2006. It is noted that though Primula capillaris is also very closely related it has been kept as a distinct species. What is also interesting about these species is their specific habitats and very restricted distribution: P. cusickiana in sandy and clay soils among sagebrush in SW Idaho and NE Oregon, P. nevadensis on limestone screes above timberland in Eastern Nevada, P. maguirei on limestone outcrops along the bottom of Logan Canyon and P. domensis along limestone rocks in Western Utah.
    Primula cusickiana (var. domensis) in cultivation
    Pam Eveleigh © 2016

    Primula lilacina vs Primula bellidifolia (P. hyacinthina)

    Primula lilacina
    In 2008, Primula lilacina, a new species in Section Muscarioides was described by John Richards. This species is found in Sichuan (Tuer Pass 29°31'0.49"N 100°16'21.09"E and Yading area 28°26'57.86"N 100°20'47.06"E) and features leaves that are densely coated with thick white farina on the underside. It has the typical capitate inflorescence of members of this section though the flowers are relatively large.

    Primula bellidifolia in Bhutan
    Immediately it recalls the species Primula hyacinthina which was described from Tron, SE Tibet ( 28°19'45.94"N 92°54'11.80"E) in 1936 but which is now included within Primula bellidifolia. This starts ringing alarm bells for me as P. bellidifolia was described as having leaves which are pubescent on both sides and without farina whereas P. hyacinthina has a thick white coating of farina on the under surface of the leaves - just like P. lilacina!

    P. lilacina (L), P. bellidifolia (R)
    So why are P. hyacinthina and P. bellidifolia lumped together? If we look to the field notes of the Ludlow & Sherriff collection #5635 from the Tse La, Tibet ( 28°49'19.88"N 93°42'33.93"E), they note that though the collection is identified as P. hyacinthina and the leaves have white farina on the underside, a few plants in the population showed no farina on the leaves. In cultivation, some of the leaves on the same plant of P. hyacinthina can be occasionally be efarinose or nearly so and sometimes typical P. bellidifolia produces farina on the petiole and base of the leaves. It seems then that we are looking at a complex of variable plants, and this is seen in the large number of synonyms for P. bellidifolia (P. adenantha, P. atricapilla, P. hyacinthina, P. menziesiana, and P. micropetala), though all of these synonyms except P. hyacinthina are from a localized area in Bhutan. See an explanation by  R.E. Cooper. P. bellidifolia was originally described from Sikkim, but the species as a whole is distributed in a wide area from Eastern Nepal, through Bhutan into Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet (for P. hyacinthina). The type locations for P. hyacinthina and bellidifolia are 420kms apart. The herbarium sheets for P. hyacinthina are E00024548 and BM000996891.
    What makes P. lilacina different from P. hyacinthina? It is unfortunate that Richards did not compare the two species when he described P. lilacina. The obvious difference  between the two is geography. The type locations for these two species are 750kms apart, and neither species seems to have been found in the intervening territory. In all other characters it seems they are equivalent.
    Perhaps genetic study of these species will help to determine their relationships, but until we have more information it is expedient to keep P. lilacina as a distinct species. See more images in the Species Gallery.
    Pam Eveleigh © 2016

    Bonvalot and d'Orléans in China

    In 1889-1890 Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orléans embarked on a journey from Siberia through Tibet and Yunnan ending in Tonkin (Vietnam). See Map. A detailed map is also available. Bonvalot's account of the journey is in the book "De Paris au Tokin a Travers Le Tibet Inconnu" which is translated into English in "Across Thibet". They were accompanied by Father Constant de Deken who acted as interpreter. His account of the journey is detailed in the book "A Travers L'Asie".

    Botanical specimens were collected on the expedition, including several Primula species. These were described by the French botanists Adrien Franchet and Édouard Bureau of the Paris Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in a document "Plantes Nouvelles du Thibet et de la Chine Occidentale". The species are Primula vittata (synonym of P. secundiflora), Primula leptopoda (synonym of P. stenocalyx), Primula diantha (collection date should read 1890 not 1860) Primula henrici and Primula pycnoloba. These all have specific collection dates, with the exception of P. pycnoloba, so using Bonvalot's book and the maps above, we can find the approximate type locations. All the type specimens are in the Paris herbarium.

    Primula pycnoloba
    Two other species were collected by Prince Henri d'Orléans on another trip, this time from Tonkin to Assam in 1895. See Map in the book "From Tonkin to India by the sources of the Irawadi". They are Primula cyclaminifolia (synonym of P. partschiana) and Primula microdonta (synonym of P. sikkimensis). Both species are listed as having been collected in 1894 in their original descriptions, but this is incorrect and should read 1895. The type for P. cyclaminifolia is P00649649 and a small label indicates it was collected on the 18th of March in Lami which corresponds to that given in the book. It is harder to decipher where P. microdonta was found as it is given only as "Mekong, June" but the month seems to relate to when the specimen was received at Paris, not when it was collected as there is a small label on the type herbarium sheet, P04544192 which says 14th September, col (undecipherable). At this date, Prince Henri was climbing out of the Mekong valley to the Salween via a pass to the south of Landjre (28°11'46.76"N 98°49'18.11"E) instead of following the pilgrimage route up the Dokar La.
    Primula secundiflora
    Read more about these Primula species in the Species Gallery. A recent popular book, Race to Tibet, is loosely the story of Bonvalot and Orléans' journey, with embellishments.

    Pam Eveleigh © 2016

    The Truth about the Blue Nivalids (P. youngeriana)

    Of the Blue Nivalids, this perhaps one of the easiest species to write about. That is because it is little known, probably only collected once ever, by Sherriff and Taylor (PDF) , on the Mira La, Tibet in 1938. A search of the Chinese Virtual Herbarium turns up no Chinese collections and that could be because to get to the Mira La is a two day hike and suitable elevation isn't accessible via road in that area. Above is the holotype from the British Museum (specimen BM00099651).
    Mira La, Tibet (Namcha Barwa Peak in the right background)
    The Mira la is a pass of 15,800 ft (slightly higher on Google Earth), NW of Tsela Dzong (on the Tsangpo river) and SW of Bayi (Nyingchi on Google Earth). The area is drier than surrounding valleys and mountains, is less forested, and screes predominate, though many high alpine lakes dot the landscape including a small one at the foot of the pass on the south side.
    Primula littledalei (under boulder to right) habitat similar to P. youngeriana
    Primula littledalei, Mi La, Tibet
    In the original description, the species is compared with Primula obtusifolia, another nivalid but from the NW Himalaya. The habitat where P. youngeriana was found - growing under huge boulders in dry moss, is strongly similar to that of P. obtusifolia but also to P. littledalei which was growing in abundance on the Mira La too. Sherriff mistakenly thought P. littledalei was P. rotundifolia which has similar orbicular leaves. P. obtusifolia has oblong leaves like P. youngeriana.

    Sherriff thought that P. youngeriana was an unusual form of Primula macrophylla var. macrocarpa (now P. megalocarpa) but with flaccid leaves and copious white farina, not something new. What makes P. youngeriana so distinctive is that the bracts are long, linear and acute at the tip and the calyx is large (1-1.5cm) and cut to the base into lanceolate, patent (spreading) lobes which are acute and densely farinose inside. P. megalocarpa also has calyces which are cut to the base but that species differs in other characteristics.
    A portion of E00024585
    courtesy of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

    The flowers of P. youngeriana are deep blue-violet, sometimes lilac, with a white eye and the corolla lobes are entire. See P. littledalei, P. rotundifolia, P. obtusifolia and P. megalocarpa in the Species Gallery. 
    This post is one in a series about Chinese blue nivalids. See the introduction post.