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Replies: 17

I live in the sandy desert-like area of Oregon that Galen mentions, but have only recently begun to pay attention to P. Brownii. When one hears of how difficult it is to grow a plant that is relatively common in one’s home area, it helps a person appreciate just how unique their home conditions may be.

In my location, P. Brownii grows in areas of pine, as one moves from the high desert up into the forested eastern foothills of the Cascade mountains at elevations around 4500′. All plants that I have seen are tucked in amongst taller brush, in areas under scattered Ponderosa Pine, so I would say that they thrive in filtered shade rather than full sun. These areas of sandy volcanic soils usually have a persistent snow cover during winter, with very little rainfall in summer.

One notable aspect of P. Brownii is just how early it blooms. Last spring I visited a population of plants which are 10 miles further up in the mountains from my house, at a higher elevation and where conditions are colder than at my house. These plants had full foliage development, and were in full flower, while the earliest garden hybrids at my house were still in early development, and perhaps a month away from flowering. P. Brownii is quite short as well – perhaps 12″ tall at best.

As a result, hybridizing these plants with other members of the peony family would involve using saved pollen from the previous season, or fresh pollen from areas where the season is advanced. One would need to be right on the spot (and perhaps down on one’s stomach !) in the area where the plants are, in the early morning when the flowers are first opening in order to guard against open pollination. I need to be more observant I’m afraid, but my impression was that pollen on these plants is somewhat scarce, so collecting it for use on other sorts of peonies might be difficult. According to Nan Vance, the pollen itself is often not particularly fertile, even when used on other P. Brownii plants. Given that few if any growers seem to have luck in growing P.Brownii in their home gardens, if one were to undertake something like this, my sense is that it would have to happen out in the woods, with native plants in the ground, where keeping track of one’s results might be problematic. Anne Oveson had these very conditions at her ranch in Wallowa Oregon, and claimed to have gotten some hybrid plants, but her location was remote, and to my knowledge no other peony growers had an opportunity to see them prior to her passing away, and her garden being dug under.

Galen was fortunate to get as many seeds as he did. On a collecting trip during the summer of 2017, I had to visit perhaps 20 plants to recover 100 seeds. The previous summer had been quite droughty, followed by a winter of higher than normal snowpack, so Galen’s comment regarding the effects of the previous summer having an effect on seed production the following spring ( even if the current spring is damp) may be true. These seeds were then sent to the APS seed exchange.

Walking casually in the woods, would one be able to identify this plant as a member of the peony family ? Once one knows what it is, the plant is easy to identify, but otherwise probably not. However the pods and seeds in late summer are quite peony-like.

As an aside, my seed-collecting trip was actually a impromptu side-stop on my way to a dinner at Black Butte Ranch in the Cascade foothills. When I arrived at my friend’s, she had a guest who has a home on the very southern tip of Baja California. I was proudly displaying my seed haul, which included many seeds in their pods, and this woman knew just what they were, as a result of having many plants of P.Californica ( “range poorly understood” according to one source) growing around her place in Southern Baja.

Bob Johnson. Bend Oregon

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