Thursday, March 30, 2017

[Botany • 2017] Dancing Butterflies of the East Himalayas: New Meconopsis Species; M. gakyidiana & M. merakensis, from East Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh and South Tibet

Meconopsis gakyidiana  
T. Yoshida, R. Yangzom & D.G. Long


The region from eastern Bhutan to Arunachal Pradesh of India and the adjacent south-eastern Tibet and northern Myanmar seems to be one of the last frontiers not only for Meconopsis hunting but also for other botanical exploration. Although there remain political difficulties for foreigners to approach the unsettled border between India and China, including the famous Tsari valley with its prominently rich flora, which was visited by Frank Ludlow, George Sherriff, Frank Kingdon-Ward and a few other plant hunters before 1950, some botanical and horticultural treasures in this region have gradually been revealed to recent travellers. As a result of examining the photographs taken by these travellers and our own botanical field research in eastern Bhutan in 2014, accompanied
by subsequent herbarium studies, two species new to science are described. The first, from eastern Bhutan and adjacent Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet, has long been cultivated under the names M. grandis or M. grandis GS600, and has recently been described as M. grandis subsp. orientalis (Grey-Wilson, 2010). It is the national flower of Bhutan. However, the type of M. grandis from Sikkim belongs to a species quite distinct from the eastern populations and the latter is now described as a new species, Meconopsis gakyidiana. The second novelty, Meconopsis merakensis, is newly described from eastern Bhutan and adjacent Arunachal Pradesh. In the past this species was confused with the closely allied M. prainiana. The two species are isolated geographically, M. prainiana being found only much further to the north-east, in south-eastern Tibet, including the Tsari valley. The title of this article is based on a comparison made by Frank Kingdon-Ward of Meconopsis flowers with butterflies in Tibet (see below).

Fig. 2 Colony of Meconopsis gakyidiana, surrounded by yellow-flowered M. paniculata, at Tsejong, Merak, east Bhutan, alt. 4,000m. Photo: T. Yoshida (2014), 1, vii. 

• Meconopsis gakyidiana T. Yoshida, R. Yangzom & D. G. Long, nom. et stat. nov.; nom. nov. for Meconopsis grandis Prain subsp. orientalis Grey-Wilson, Sibbaldia 8, 81 (2010).
Type: NE Bhutan, Cho La, Ludlow, Sherriff & Hicks 20801 (BM, holotype). Meconopsis grandis auct. non Prain, G. Taylor, The Genus Meconopsis 68 (1934), pro parte.

Diagnosis: M. baileyi Prain affinis, sed flore crateriformi, petalis manifeste concavis, thecis aurantiacis, atque stylo longiore difert. 
M. gakyidiana is similar to M. baileyi, but differs from the latter in the bowl-shaped flower with distinctly concave petals, orange-coloured thecae and longer style.

Distribution: Eastern Bhutan, western Arunachal Pradesh of India, southern Xizang (Tibet) of China; 3,700–4,300m in elevation. Habitat: Open shrubberies, lush pastures, beside rubble walls in grazing grounds, rarely on the sunny edge of sub-alpine forests; often forming a loose tuft with short rhizomes and gregariously growing together with shrubs and other tall herbs.

• Meconopsis merakensis T. Yoshida, R. Yangzom & D.G. Long, sp. nov. 
Type: East Bhutan: Trashigang district, Merak region, loose rocky area above Tsejong, 4,290m

Diagnosis: M. prainianae Kingdon-Ward affinis, sed capsulis longioribus et subcylindricis differt. 
M. merakensis differs from M. prainiana in its longer and sub-cylindrical fruit capsules.

Distribution: Eastern Bhutan: Merak and Sakten regions of Tashigang district; India: western Arunachal Pradesh, region around Orka La and Bhangajang, Tawang district, Mago district; 3,800–4,500m in elevation. 

Habitat: West, north-west or north-east facing steep rocky slopes, partly moss-covered boulder slopes or grassy and rocky slopes above tree-line, exposed to intermittent foggy rains of summer monsoon; rooting deep among rocks with scanty soil.

•  Meconopsis merakensis var. merakensis
•  Meconopsis merakensis var. albolutea T. Yoshida, R. Yangzom & D. G. Long, var. nov. 

Meconopsis elongata at its type locality in Bhutan 

As stated in the introduction above, parts of the vast mountain ranges between Bhutan, northern Myanmar and south-west China remain very poorly explored botanically, even for such showy plants as Meconopsis. The new discoveries reported here demonstrate that diligent field work, using the modern technology of digital photography, can reveal plants new to science and often not brought into cultivation in the past. Sometimes these plants have been collected by early explorers, but those collections were often too limited to allow detailed scientific study without further material. However, when re-examined in conjunction with new specimens and images, proper scientific investigation can reveal new botanical treasures.

Toshio Yoshida, Rinchen Yangzom and David Long. 2017. Dancing Butterflies of the East Himalayas: New Meconopsis Species from East Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh and South Tibet. SIBBALDIA: The Journal of Botanic Garden Horticulture. 14; 69-96. 

 The National Flower of Bhutan found to be a New Species!

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