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June 2015

The Welsh poppy gets a change of name

Meconopsis cambrica. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
As I mentioned here recently, there’s a plan to change the classic botanical name of the Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica. Chris Grey-Wilson, the world’s leading expert on Meconopsis, first proposed the idea of restricting the name Meconopsis to the Himalayan poppies in the botanical journal Taxon in 2012. He repeats the suggestion in his stunning new monograph on Meconopsis, which was published recently, and proposes a new botanical name for the Welsh poppy.

Actually, what he says, basically, is this: if you apply all the legitimate and agreed botanical rules, the Welsh poppy is in fact the only true Meconopsis. All the Himalayan blue poppies that have captured our imagination for so long are, botanically, so very different that they need a genus of their own. Fair enough.

But, because all the blue poppies are so fabulous and so well known to gardeners, we should call them Meconopsis and call the Welsh poppy something else. Technically, the Welsh poppy should probably be put back into the genus Papaver, where our old friend Carl Linnaeus first assigned it back in 1753. But, for various botanical reasons I needn’t go into, that would mess up the taxonomy of the seventy or so other species of Papaver. So Christopher suggests creating a new generic name: Parameconopsis. The Welsh poppy would become Parameconopsis cambrica.

He says that continuing to call the Welsh poppy Meconopsis cambrica and creating a new name for all the others “would be widely deplored in the botanical and horticultural worlds”. I wonder…

I’m entirely happy to accept that the two need to be separated. But, frankly, it sounds to me as if he simply wants to give the everyday, easy-to-grow, self-sows-everywhere plant a new name and retain the well known name for the tricky-to-grow ones with all the exotic and romantic Himalayan associations.

So I thought it would be interesting to see what the Welsh thought about all this and I asked Simon Goodenough, Curator of Horticulture at The National Botanic Garden of Wales.

“The Meconopsis debate has begun here in Wales,” he told me, “and there are a number of people who disagree with the idea of changing the botanical name of the Welsh poppy. However, I think changing its name will be a great opportunity to raise its status as a unique plant and one which Welsh botanists, gardeners and the people of Wales can be proud of. The National Botanic Garden of Wales will celebrate this change, however it plays out.” So, “always look on the bright side” is the message. Rather clever, actually…

Meconopsis aambrica - double flowered orange. Image ©Plant World SeedsAs I said, it’s not the first time the Welsh poppy has had a change of name. Our old friend Carl Linnaeus named it Papaver cambricum back in 1753, but then in 1814 a botanist called Louis Viguier separated it out into a genus of its own. You see why here. It’s also been classified as an Argemone, a Cerastites and a Stylophorum – but let’s not dig all that up. Now, it’s going to be Parameconopsis cambrica. But I have the feeling that when someone finally takes a good long look at the whole poppy family it might be on the move again.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… Gardeners in Britain and in North America can order seven different forms of the Welsh poppy, whatever its botanical name, from Plant World Seeds - including this double orange.

Big Flower in Arkansas

Guest blog by judywhite

Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed.I was in Bentonville, Arkansas recently, my first time in that state, and the first time in the town where Walmart got its start. It today dominates the landscape, culture and mindset. The drama-comedy film I wrote, "Lies I Told My Little Sister," had been chosen an Official Selection of Geena Davis' inaugural film festival, Bentonville Film Festival (BFF)  and I was invited for the events.

What I did not expect – until I read up on Bentonville before going – was that a world-class museum opened there on 11/11/11. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was made possible by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam, and it is truly a spectacular building surrounded by spectacular grounds, all free to the public. I was there for the opening party and a lot of BFF panels on women & diversity (the festival's theme), and saw Robert De Niro and Rosie O'Donnell and of course Geena, among other A-list celebs, but managed to miss the museum art itself until I went back later specifically.

I went to see a big flower. In a painting that has always been one of my favorites. The amazing, huge work of iconic art called "Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1" is a 48in x 40in oil on canvas painted in 1932 by my favorite artist, Georgia O'Keeffe. It was purchased by the museum last November, possibly to help put it on the map, because it brought the highest price ever paid for a work of art by a female artist - $44.4 million at Sotheby's for a Datura stramonium.

Deservedly, the Jimson Weed has its own room, on a huge green wall emblazoned with a quote: “I said to myself, I’ll paint what I see, what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.” –Georgia O’Keeffe “About Myself,” 1939

Walmart's Bentonville is a surreal setting for a high-class film festival, and a surprising setting for the Jimson Weed. The museum's other acquisitions make for a simple curation arranged by year, usually with only one example of each American artist's work. There are actually three other pieces by O'Keeffe here, all minor, dwarfed literally and figuratively by the white flower on the wall opposite them. And during a film festival dedicated to championing women, despite the presence of such stars as De Niro and Courtney Cox and Nick Cannon and Bruce Dern, it was only the great Georgia O'Keeffe, now the most sought-after female artist in the world, who truly took my breath away.
Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed display. Image