Demonstrations, Miscellaneous, Tibet

Save The Tibetan Blue Poppy!

Tibetan Blue Poppy
Tibetan Blue Poppy


For untold millenia Tibetans had observed and enjoyed  the beauty of a flower native to Tibet, which they called Utpal Ngonpo (ཨུཏྤལ་སྔོན་པོ༑). This blue bloom was most likely unknown to the Occidental world until the arrival of European colonization of India and the resultant ‘Great Game’ played out on the high lands of Central Asia, which sparked the British invasion of Tibet in 1904. Along with military and strategic interests the region had increasingly exerted a fascinating influence over the European mind, a land it was considered of magic and mystery. Little wonder then that it attracted adventurers, naturalists, explorers, botanists and explorers alike. Some of those pioneering visitors to Tibet combined a number of such interests and more besides, none more so than Lt. Colonel Frederick Marshman Bailey (Born February 3 February 1882, Lahore, India)  who apart from interests in photography, butterfly collecting and trophy hunting, was a British spy actively engaged in the struggle between Russia and Britain for dominance in the Himalayas.

Frederick Bailey
Frederick Bailey


Bailey had become fluent in Tibetan and was appointed as Political Officer for Sikkim and Tibet between 1921-28. However he is probably better known for a discovery made during an unauthorized expedition which took him into the area of the Yarlong gorge inside Tibet. In 1911-12 he had traveled along the Yarlung Tsangpo river accompanied by a Captain Henry Morshead of the Survey of India  On reaching the Rong Chu valley, on the upper reaches of that river Bailey in a forested valley chanced upon a tall blue poppy. The floral secret of Tibet was pressed into his notebook and eventually reached London where the botanical world gave it the name Meconopsis baileyi.

This undercover agent however was not the first European to have encountered Tibet’s blue poppies, that honor belongs to a French botanist Père Jean Marie Delavay who in 1886 noted them in the alpine forests within Tibet’s Kham region, (the mountainous and forested South-Eastern sector of this Tibetan territory was forcibly annexed into Yunnan Province following China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet) to be confused by later writers as part of Yunan in China. These he dispatched to the Museum of Natural History in Paris where the Director named it Meconopsis betonici folia.

Frank Kingdon Ward
Frank Kingdon Ward

Image:taken from ‘Pilgrimage For Plants’

However the ready availability in our local garden stores of the Tibetan Blue Poppy is due in the main to the efforts of Frank Kingdon Ward an English botanist who during Spring of 1924 was exploring the same regions, visited by Bailey, of the Tsangpo River in South Eastern Tibet when he first saw and collected Meconopsis baileyi (as it was at that time called). Unfortunately the specimens proved difficult to cultivate and showed no sign of self-seeding, a disappointment that drove Kingdon Ward later that year to return  to the banks of Tibet’s Tsangpo River where he harvested seeds of the plant, on arrival in England a year later they were shared among fifty expert gardeners with a successful germination and in 1926 the first cultivated plants made an appearance at the Royal Horticultural Society’s spring show in London.He became rightly famous for introducing the Blue Poppy to garden cultivation, but what common and memorable name now to call this beauty?

Tibetan Habitat Of The Blue Poppy
Tibetan Habitat Of The Blue Poppy


Clearly the home and habitat of this flower belonged to Tibet and it would be reasonable to have imagined it to be described as the Tibetan Blue Poppy, some writers at the time did, others however chose to term it the Himalayan Blue Poppy. Was this a reflection of the times, a fascination, given wide circulation and enhanced popularity by the novel ‘Lost Horizon’ set in the snow mountains of a mythical Shangri-la kingdom? Perhaps, or maybe the botanical establishment took a lead from their colleagues at the British Foreign Office, who refused to acknowledge Tibet as a distinct nation and chose to see it as being a land under Chinese ‘suzerainty’, naming it after a mountain range is of course a far less politically contentious option! Whatever the reasons, the term took root and it is still widely known and sold as such today, although many know and describe the plant as the Tibetan Blue Poppy.

Map adapted by @tibettruth from original by Tibetan Soul

That however seems to be changing with news that a leading British seed supplier called ‘Suttons Seeds‘ which sells ‘Himalayan Blue Seeds’ is now promoting in its catalog a Meconopsis plant it’s renamed as  ‘China Blue’ See HERE 

Image: print-screen from

It’s very disappointing that this highly respected company, which is appointed to the UK Monarchy, is not respecting the origins, location and habitat of this beautiful flower of Tibet and risking misleading its customers and the wider public into wrongly regarding the plant as being from China. As our Twitter colleagues @tibettruth have justly asked, what would Prince Charles, having an interest in Tibet and  a close friend of the Dalai Lama  say if he was made aware that company granted a royal appointment is misrepresenting this Tibetan beauty?

Image: wikinut

We hope that Suttons Seeds will reconsider it’s current branding of this plant and return to describing it more correctly as the Tibetan Blue Poppy,or at the very least ‘Himalayan Blue’ so much of Tibet and its culture is being eroded and lost due to China’s violent and illegal occupation of that land, it would be a poignant loss indeed if gardeners were forced through such insensitive marketing to ask for a ‘China Blue‘ poppy. Thankfully we are dealing with a company of integrity that no doubt places high value on tradition, so there’s every chance that it will be willing to positively respond to the concerns on this issue. If you wish to add your voice in support of the #tibetanbluepoppy the flower of Tibet then you may contact Suttons Seeds via:


Twitter: @suttons_seeds


5 thoughts on “Save The Tibetan Blue Poppy!

  1. Reblogged this on One Person, One World. and commented:
    To some this might not be such a big thing, with giving a flower the wrong name. But to the Tibetan people to have THEIR OWN country mixed up with China, that is wrong. The Tibetan people fight bravely every single day for the right to their own country that was brutally occupied (and still is!) by China. So I beg of you who read this to write to Sutton seeds and ask of them to respect the Tibetan people and their country… Thank you

  2. Hello TibetTruth Friends,

    An interesting article. I have the lovely meconopsis growing in our garden and have always heard it referred to as the Himalayan Blue Poppy, never “China Blue”. I had no idea of its Tibetan origins, which make it all the more special to me now. Does a name matter? Yes, I think it does! Pakistan’s Pink Salt is sold as Himalayan Pink Salt precisely because the former doesn’t have the same ring of purism or mysticism for Western consumers. Names definitely wield a certain amount of power.

    Here’s the answer I got in reply to my email to Sutton Seeds:

    “Thank you for your email. The Meconopsis China Blue plant has been on the market for many years, not just from Suttons but also from a wide number of garden centres, nurseries and mail order suppliers. China Blue is the name given to this particular variety of Meconopsis by the breeder or selector. Suttons had no involvement in the choosing of the name and are simply supplying the variety under its correct registered name. We would never wish to cause offence and so are currently looking into this matter. Thank you for getting in touch.”

    In respect to the Tibetan people, already disenfranchised by China and Western Politicos, I will be calling my Meconopsis Poppies Tibetan Blue from now on! I really hope Suttons will change their branding too. Every action, however big or small matters because “Little wheel spin and spin and the big wheel turn around” as the wonderful Buffy Sainte Marie sang. 🙂

    Best regards, Jane

    1. Jane thank you so much for your wonderful support, so happy to hear you cultivate the Tibetan Blue Poppy, would you at some stage share a photo? As to Sutton’s we trust that they are beginning to realize that folks are indeed unhappy that this wondrous beauty of Tibet should be re-branded and sold under the name of the very tyrant which is terrorizing Tibetans. We imagine how the company would have felt had a Afrikkaner cultivator nurtured an English rose and re-named it De-Clerk Pink!

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