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.

Farrer & Purdom 1915 Expedition to "Kansu"

Primula stenocalyx. 
Trying to understand Primula species is more than just looking at herbarium specimens and reading technical descriptions. Delving into the original plant collector's expeditions provides valuable insights into plant locations, habitats and field observations - and often it is pure and simple entertainment. In the course of trying to understand the Blue Nivalids, I traced the route of Reginald Farrer and his companion William Purdom in 1915 through the Datung Alps, now within Qinghai, not Gansu.

From "The Rainbow Bridge"
Surely you have heard of Reginald Farrer: plantsman, explorer and writer of excessive descriptive prose! Farrer wrote about this expedition, a continuation of his 1914 journey, in a series of articles in the Gardeners' Chronicle. 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.
"Wolvesden House, I feel, though abandoned again for evermore to mules and muleteers, remains perpetually my property Dear little house, how dull you sometimes were; how desirable you always are. Sitting up there, far away, lost and lone in your deep grove of the great Thibetan Alps. Those who may wish, (in days I hope still distant) to commune with my ghost must take a long journey, to where it will be found cheeping and chittering wanly round the mud-plastered walls of Wolvesden, rather than on the Schneeberg or the Tombia or even Moncenisio." From "the Rainbow Bridge"
The plant that I was investigating is Primula farreriana, but there are other Primula species to be found in the same area and Farrer & Purdom collected most of them. Unfortunately Farrer has an annoying habit of calling the plants sometimes by their Latin Name and sometimes by his own English Name. It can be difficult to decipher which plant he is talking about! Primulas found on this expedition include; P. farreriana (My Own Primula), P. gemmifera (Welcome), P. pumilio, P. reginella (Little Queen), P. stenocalyx (Clusterbeauty), P. tangutica, P. urticifolia (Pretty One), P. woodwardii (Imperial), P. erratica (Lavandine, P. stenocalyx dealbata). However, his articles are certainly worth reading!

The Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalsky (Przhevalsky) had been to this region in 1880 and made several Primula collections which were then described by Carl Johann (Ivanovič) Maximowicz. These include P. flava, P. pumilio, P. stenocalyx and P. urticifolia. There is an interesting map which shows Przewalsky's routes in the area, part of a set made by Filchner in  "Kartenwerk der erdmagnetischen Forschungsexpedition nach Zentral-Asien 1926 - 28". From this you can see that Farrer & Purdom's route overlapped with Przewalsky's.
Farrer & Purdom 1915 route
How well Farrer sums up the feeling of coming back from a botanical expedition : "Indeed, the Rainbow Bridge has long since reached its bourn; we have long been roaming at ease on the far golden shore, and found it barren; now, upon a bridge of sighs we must embark upon a return journey across the abysm of tears towards the desolated shell-holes and slag-heaps of the present days. Yet do not be misled if I seem to grizzle and peeve as I return. For there is laughter in every sigh and complaint, and a twinkle of not unkindly derision that any such should be emitted." from "The Rainbow Bridge".

I am looking for images of Primula species from this area of Qinghai/Gansu. Please contact me if you have any or if you are planning a trip to the area in the future.

The Truth about the Blue Nivalids (P. longipetiolata)

Primula longipetiolata is considered a synonym of P. limbata by Halda and Richards, and a synonym of P. optata by the Flora of China (FoC). The holotype specimen resides at Universität Wien, Austria and consists of one plant, quite faded, but there is also a sheet at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh which consists of three leaves and a flower (not a whole plant). One of the leaves retains the color of the midrib and petiole, which is red in live plants. Telling are handwritten notes on both sheets from W.W. Smith, the Edinburgh one says "I have seen complete specimen - cotype in Herbarium Vienna. I do not match it with any other Nivalis form. Dr. Handel Mazzetti supports limbata - which will not do." and the Vienna one says "P. longipetiolata. I think this is sp. nov. It is not limbata, Balf.f. et Forrest." When Smith and Fletcher wrote about the Section Nivales in their monograph, Smith reluctantly placed P. longipetiolata under P. limbata but stated that "Dr Handel-Mazzetti regards it as too closely approaching P. limbata."

Primula longipetiolata. Long red petioles and farina thick around the under margin
The more current Chinese online version of the Flora of China has P. longipetiolata listed as distinct. In the discussion it is distinguished from P. limbata and P. optata by the leaf shape and longer petioles (also calyx lobes and number of whorls). Also mentioned in the discussion is P. tsiangiae, which is listed as a synonym though it was not mentioned in the published FoC and Richards lists as a synonym of P. limbata. This is a confusing species which was collected in fruit and initially compared with Primula orbicularis. It was found in the same area as P. longipetiolata, near Kangding (now Garze). It has leaves with an attenuate base merging into a long petiole which look different to those pictured above but which match the holotype. However, once we see P. longipetiolata in cultivation, it becomes apparent that this species produces both leaves shapes pictured - those with an attenuate base are produced early and those with an obtuse base are produced later and are more evident in the Fall. It is convenient then to lump P. tsiangiae into P. longipetiolata until there is evidence otherwise. There is no indication that either P. limbata or P. optata produce both leaf shapes.
Primula longipetiolata leaf shape variation
The type location for P. longipetiolata is the La-ni-ba, SW of She-to, Sichuan. I have researched the location of this pass and it is just 20kms away and on the same mountain range as the Zhedou pass (30° 4'27.11"N 101°48'15.00"E), where most of the the wild images in the Species Gallery were taken. Additional images were taken at Ji Chou Pass which is on the southern end of the same range, about 70kms away from the type location. The type location for P. limbata is 350kms to the SW of P. longipetiolata, on the Tibet-Yunnan border. The type location for P. optata is at Siku (Zhugqu) 500kms away from P. longipetiolata to the NE in Gansu.
Relative type locations
Zheduo Pass, habitat of Primula longipetiolata
Note that Smith refers to subsequent collections by Rock in Sichuan which he says confirms the opinion of Handel-Mazzetti to lump P. longipetiolata with P. limbata. These sheets are not online and so I have not taken them into account. I think P. longipetiolata stands on its own as a distinct species from the information that I have and have listed it separately on PW in the Species Gallery.

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