Lilium formosanum var. pricei
Wed, 15 Jul 2009 13:31:32 PDT
Following up on the contributions on this topic with particular relevance to the apparent reversion from the forma pricei to that of the nominate form I think some of the responses have highlighted the reason for the supposed reversion. This form, at whatever botanical taxonomic level one cares to use to describe it, when grown in isolation as a group of similar plants from the high altitude seed provenance consistently breed true amongst themselves as has been demonstrated by some respondents on this blog as well as based on information gathered from various sources in Europe and Taiwan, etc. 

The stock in the collection here is composed of several separate importations, including being derived from the original one by Price & Elwes collected from 2950 metres a.s.l. on Mount Morrison in 1912. The highest population is recorded from 3,660 metres a.s.l.; i.e. around 12,00 feet. Most of this material is as can be imagined now well into several generations during the past 100 years whether from the original import or others predating WWW2 and subsequently. Price mentions that he observed the change in size and colour is noticeable at around 1800 metres a.s.l. He also remarks that those plants at sea level tend to be pure white without the distinctive "rich red bands on the keels of the perianth segments". He goes on to say further that "the change is so gradual and continuous that it is obviously the same species all the time". As most folk have discovered, this taxon, in any form, is not a long lived one therefore none of the bulbs derived from the original seed importation exist as far as I have been able to establish. On the basis of a roughly random five period per generation then it is obvious a lot of generations, perhaps 20, have come and gone however amongst the populations grown in isolation from the risk of cross pollination from plants of the normal form the size of these descendants is exactly as Price and Elwes described. I think it has to be thought as a very real possibility that the development or changes, as  flagged up by Mr Jones will be due to cross pollination rather then any genetic 'reversion' from what might be better described as an high altitude ecotype which variety or forma pricei clearly is. Evolution, in this case backwards, within this high altitude genetic resource, simply does not work in anything like so quick a time scale.

While individual gardeners might not have populations of anything other than the form or variety under discussion there is no way that they can militate against pollen derived from other lilies of different forma or varietas arriving riding on the back of various insects, or additionally in the case of North America the much more widely roaming pollinators such as Hummingbird species who are supremely adapted for a trumpet species such as L. formosanum of whatever form or variety. Perhaps there is a very real possibility which needs to be considered as to how this might have caused for the changes reported by e.g. Mr. Jones unless there is some other development we don't know about.

In the case of Lilium formosanum, this is amongst lilies an unusual species in that the natural distribution functions as a more or less unbroken botanical cline from sea level right up to the highest mountain pasture regions. This can only really be more or less possible on an island such as Taiwan / Formosa. Were gardeners for example to obtain seed from the species say half way up along the cline then these too could be expected to grow true to their 'type' rather than dramatically change to either dwarf 'pricei' or the nominate coastal 'type', providing they also remain discrete genetically. During the progression from the bottom to the top the lily undergoes subtle changes however there are a couple of variations as they do so. The 'pricei' form (as distinct perhaps from variety) has a distinct purplish brown dorsal stripe on the outer tepals which is pretty much reduced and in some cases lacking on the inflorescence of coastal forms when, in between, these colours undergo imperceptible changes in either direction. Tony Avent is quite correct in saying there is no actual defined variety / varietas in botanical terminology however there remains the clear and obvious fact that those plants from the highest elevations on the cline are visually distinct from those at the lowest end. If not referred to as a form or forma what term does one use to make the distinction between them? Form / forma is the term lower than variety / varietas, for many folk this might be semantic however in pursuit of accuracy they serve the purposes for distinction well enough. What ever the chosen term many of the group of this lily is in full bloom here with several more nearly out. For the record it does seem that this lily, at least in its montane 'pricei' forma appears to be self fertile, I would welcome knowing from anyone who can say if this is true of the coastal from. Over the past two or three years I deliberately set one specimen apart from the whole collection to see if, as with many if not perhaps most of the alpine lily species, it too would be self fertile as the others are.

In addition to the above it might be of interest to know that, based on the published research papers from Taiwanese botanists and others. The variety 'pricei'  Stoker was published (1935) however is not recorded on either IPNI or in Flora Taiwanense, but it is recorded elsewhere. It received an RHS Award of Merit in 1921. There is one other so called 'forma' or 'varietas', an all white = supposed albino - var. album syn. Special Group' Hort., which does not appear to have been validly published and remains just as an horticultural foot note. There are two validly published varietas recorded: - L. formosanum var formosanum Wallace (1891); & L formosanum var. microphyllum  T.S.Liu & S.S. Ying (1978).

I hope the above hasn't led to too many people loosing the will to live however in the interests of accuracy I do think by whatever means the situation which developed must be due to cross pollination[s]. While the suppliers of seed in any particular seed exchange undoubtedly do their utmost to send in accurately recorded material I have myself found regular examples even from botanical collectors working in the field who have miss-identified what has been collected, one recent example this year has led to the uncovering / discovery of an entirely new lily species from China once the seed germinated and grew to the point of plants flowering here. This might easily have gone unnoticed but for the fact that I have here several examples of this species from different provenances derived from three different wild collections and the one which 'travelled' under that name is significantly distinct in terms of flower shape, flower colour and leaf shapes when it eventually flowered earlier this year, the latter's leaeves uniquely so in Lilium. This new taxon's description will hopefully be formally published later this year. I am sure there will in the years to come be one or two more new lilies that will remain to be discovered, I have recently been sent photographs of several from China with a question mark over them and it seems likely that two, possibly even three, will also be new but at what status, either at species or subspecies, remains to be seen.

Regards, Iain

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