I bought a plant at a local grocery store last fall. It was labelled “Meconopsis betonicifolia”. The label included a photo of a beautiful blue poppy. I had tried, as many people have, to grow the Tibetan blue poppy, but without success. However, the plant was available, it looked healthy and the price was right. I took it home, planted it in a sheltered spot with only a bit of sun from the west in deep, moist soil. Then I pretty much forgot about it.
This spring, much to my surprise, the plant came back! It grew and grew, produced buds and then flowers. Beautiful blue flowers! I felt so smug. The elusive Tibetan blue poppy was mine!
Really, it was not through any effort or skill on my part. I was lucky to buy a healthy plant and lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest. The right situation is all-important for the cultivation of this plant.
And the plant is a perennial, right? It is blooming in my garden this year, and it will bloom next year and the year after that.
A dear friend, after admiring my plant in full bloom, just had to have one of her own. We went to a local nursery where we were pleased to find two Meconopsis betonicifolia plants for sale. My friend bought both of them, one of them already in flower. The flower was not quite the same intense blue as my plant’s flowers: it was more of a faded violet, but we didn’t worry much about that. Perhaps the bloom was merely a little past its prime. Just as we were leaving, the nursery-person said to us, “You must remove the seed heads before they open; otherwise, the plant will not come back next year”.
Could this be true? It didn’t sound right to me, and as soon as I returned home, I began to research the subject, furiously turning pages both electronic and paper. My best sources were A – Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Canadian Edition, Christoper Brickell, Editor in Chief (EGP) and The Meconopsis Group website (TMG). This is what I found:
- The Tibetan blue poppy has been known for decades as M. betonicifolia. As the result of a recent reassessment, the well-known taxonomist, Christopher Grey-Wilson has changed the name of this widely grown plant. He has proposed (2009) re-establishing the plant under the name it was first described, i.e. M. baileyi (TMG).
- The faded violet colour of my friend’s plant was likely caused by too much exposure to sun, or possibly because of the soil.
- Some species of Meconopsis are monocarpic. Monocarpic plants are those that flower, set seeds and then die. Other terms with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous.
- Is my plant monocarpic? The experts differ on the answer to this question:
- “Short-lived perennials, e.g. M. betonicifolia, are less likely to be monocarpic in moist conditions, and if flowering is prevented until several crowns have been formed” (EGP). Uh-oh, too late for that.
- “M. baileyi is frequently stated to be monocarpic or a short lived
perennial. The reason for lack of longevity seems to be cultural
rather than inherent. Hotter, drier climates. . .are acknowledged to be difficult ones for growing this species. It will not readily survive more than one season in areas with such a climate. . .M. baileyi thrives with little difficulty in
rich, well cultivated soils with plenty of added organic matter in
cooler and damper climates such as central Scotland. Specimens
of more than 20 years of age are growing in the garden of the
present author and such longevity is not uncommon in the
Scottish climate.” (TMG). Okay, that’s better.
- Contrary to the nursery-person’s advice, the best strategy for growing blue poppies in the garden year after year is to collect the seeds and plant them in pots in January.
Gardening is ever and always a risky business. Plants are lost every year, and some years are worse than others. I’ll let you know whether my lovely Tibetan blue poppy lives to bloom another year.