Paeonia TOW - Part 2

James Waddick
Fri, 30 Jul 2004 08:09:06 PDT
Peonies on the West Coast Part 2	by James W. Waddick

Chinese Peonies
         There is a single species, P. lactiflora, that is the primary 
garden peony around the world. Chinese selections have been grown for 
centuries. Chinese and European selections have produced hundreds of 
available cultivars. These make up the classic large double-flowered red, 
pink or white flowers that are still the mainstay of the peony cut-flower 
market. They are northern plants and have specific growth requirements that 
have shaped the entire understanding of most gardeners.
         They are not always the best garden plants; their large blooms 
fall over due to weak stems or in the first wind or rain. Plants are often 
big and too unkempt to grow in the perennial border, but are often put 
aside as an herbaceous 'hedge' or for foundations. Native to northeast 
China, they do not grow well in mid-temperate or milder climates. They need 
an extended cold dormancy for successful bloom, but can be cultivated well 
into Canada.

All other herbaceous peonies
         After all the above have been considered, there are another 20 or 
so peony species that are quite variable and offer a range of interesting 
possibilities. Some of the more distinctive 'types' are: the fern leaf 
peony (P. tenuifolia) with leaves finely dissected into as many as 200 
needle-like segments per leaf; the Himalayan P. emodi which gets over four 
feet tall with large white Anemonelike flowers; P. mlokosowitschii, an 
unflowing name for the only yellow-flowered herbaceous peony from the 
Caucus Mountains; and the native European P. officinalis long a staple of 
herbal medicines and increasingly endangered due to growing human 
populations and environmental decline. These and other species have been 
hybridized with each other and P. lactiflora to produce a range of garden 
hybrids in a wider range of flower colors, stature and form than found in 

Peonies for warm/mild climates
         The group I'd like to emphasize here are a series of species found 
on islands and shores of the Mediterranean Sea. These species grow and 
flourish in Mediterranean climates not unlike many comparable sites on the 
West Coast, Australia and elsewhere. They come from areas with hot dry 
summers, fall and winter rainfall and generally milder climates. These have 
rarely been used to produce hybrids which might be more easily grown, 
tolerate a wider range of growing conditions and produce a range of plants 
suited to growing on the Pacific Coast.
         The species I have in mind include P. broteroi, P. clusii, P. 
coriacea, P. corsica, P. mascula, P. parnassica, and P. rhodia, and some 
geographic forms of P. officinalis, P. pergrina and P. daurica.  The island 
species include P. clusii from Crete (and elsewhere), P. rhodia from Rhodes 
and P. corsica from Corsica and Sardinia as well as isolated ssp. from 
various Aegean/Greek islands. P. corsica (also known by the unwieldy P. 
cambessdessii) is the most widely grown. There are extremely few hybrids 
involving any of these species.
         These ten species make up more than a third of all known species 
and have great potential for producing a new range of garden peonies for 
mild and Mediterranean climates. Because most hybrid peonies were developed 
in cooler to cold temperate climates, where these mild climate species are 
not easily grown, they were never incorporated*. Since there is the belief 
that peonies cannot be grown in mild climates, there seem to be few efforts 
to grow these species in mild climates and no one actively growing and 
hybridizing these mild climate species. Most of these are difficult to 
obtain as plants, but seeds are often available from a variety of specialty 
suppliers. Some can grow to blooming size in as few as three or four years 
and as short as two years.
         I believe that a person dedicated to growing a range of these 
milder climate species, understanding their needs and following a planned 
series of controlled crosses, including these and more northerly species, 
could produce a whole new set of plants suited to many mild climates, not 
just Mediterranean climates. Plants that did not require long cold dormant 
periods would be well suited to Mediterranean climates, Australia, the 
American mid-South, South Africa and elsewhere.
         Species and cultivar selection are very important to success in 
growing peonies on the west coast particularly as you proceed from north to 
south. Paige Woodward's Pacific Rim Nursery successfully grows a wide 
variety of peonies; slightly south Jane McGary has reported considerable 
success. In the interior valley near Sonoma, CA, a new hybridizer has 
produced some interesting hybrids between herbaceous and tree peonies; 
these intersectional peonies are the plants of the future.
         Generally the farther south you are the less likely your success 
with P. lactiflora and its many common cvs. I'd be very interested in 
learnging who has success with herbaceous and tree peonies and what 
Mediterranean peonies are actually grown by PBS members. Does anyone in a 
colder climate have success with Mediterranean peonies?

	And one important reminder: All peonies do best if planted, replanted, 
divided or moved in fall ONLY when dormant. Doing so in spring is likely to 
cause stress for all involved and by all means avoid boxed dried up peony 
roots in spring. So this is the time to consider planting peonies.

         And finally a small commercial plug for the new book 'The Genus 
Paeonia' by Josef Halda and myself (Timber Press, 2004), the most recent 
complete generic revision. I also recommend 'Peonies' by Al Rogers, now out 
of print, but a paper back version due very soon. Appreciate all comments 
and experiences.

		Best	Jim W.

* There are a few exceptions.
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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