Paeonia TOW - Part 1

James Waddick
Thu, 29 Jul 2004 09:11:24 PDT
>Peonies on the West Coast Part 1        by James W. Waddick
>The intent of this brief introduction to peonies is based on two 
>assumptions: 1) that this is an introduction to the whole genus and 2) 
>that garden peonies are not widely grown in western gardens. I'll follow 
>with some suggestions.
>         The genus Paeonia is primarily a temperate genus of plants 
> closely related to the Family Ranunculaceae, but now usually confined to 
> their own Family Paeoniaceae.  In many ways peonies are horticulturally 
> treated as bulbs in the widest sense. Many have thick storage rots and a 
> life cycle based on spring flowering/fall planted bulbs. Some bulb 
> nurseries actually grow and sell dormant peonies along with the 
> traditional tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.
>         Horticulturally the genus is divided into two 'structural' 
> groups: herbaceous peonies and woody peonies. Systematically they are 
> best understood as four subgenera:
>        American Native Peonies  (Subgenus Onaepia)
         Woody or "Tree Peonies" (Subgenus Moutan) in Part 1

>        And in Part 2:Chinese Peonies (Subgenus Albiflora containing the 
> single species P. lactiflora)
>         Most Herbaceous Peonies (Subgenus Paeonia)
>Native Species
>         Most gardeners, even West Coast Gardeners do not realize that 
> there is one (or two) species native to the US west coast. Paeonia 
> brownii ( or ssp brownii) is found in the Pacific Northwest in OR, WA, 
> ID, UT WY, NV mostly in high desert sites. The closely related, P. b. 
> ssp.  californica (or P. californica) is found in a smaller area of 
> central and southern CA in desert sites. Both have attractive foliage, 
> but their dull maroon-brown flowers are hidden in the foliage and 
> generally attractive only to collectors.  They have proven difficult to 
> grow outside their native area without extensive special care. I grow 
> mine on a high raised bed for increased drainage and no added water.
>         This species has the most bulb-like yearly cycle. In mild 
> climates the foliage emerges in fall at the onset of rains, remains all 
> winter to bloom in early spring and then goes dormant with spring/summer 
> heat and dry. P. b. californica is especially intolerant to heavy frost.
>Woody Peonies
>         The cultivated tree peonies grow from 3 to 6 feet tall (certainly 
> not 'trees') and have long-lived, woody stems. There are two sub groups; 
> 1) the shrubby stoloniferous P. delavayi species with red, yellow or 
> white flowers, and 2) the taller forms most often found in gardens 
> including P. suffruticosa, P. rockii and relatives. These have been 
> cultivated for centuries, perhaps a millennium, in China and in the West 
> for about 150 years.
>         Woody peonies comprise as few as 3 or 4 species or as many as 10 
> depending on your 'authority'. The arrangements are especially 
> controversial due to the long period these have been cultivated in China. 
> All are found in SW China and among the most southerly of all peonies. As 
> expected these will do well in milder climates and can be grown as far 
> south as Los Angeles with some understanding and proper care.
>         Tree peonies can reach to seven feet and live over 100 years. A 
> well-grown plant can have hundreds of flowers up to a foot across and 
> inspire growers to excess. They certainly deserve to be more widely grown 
> in many areas and microclimates on the Pacific Coast. They require a 
> minimum winter chill for dormancy and bud production. Some growers remove 
> still green foliage during the coolest season to encourage this dormancy.
>         These plants are the least bulb-like in growth, but can still be 
> dug and shipped bare-root when dormant in the fall like other bulbous 
> plants. In the ground treat them like woody shrubs.

         Continues on Part 2

                 Best    Jim W.

Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

Zone 5 Record low -23F
         Summer 100F +

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