2017, November 16th at 09:14 #19008
2018, March 1st at 18:17 #19009
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
2018, March 1st at 19:41 #19010
Interesting stuff, Bob! I’m one of the stubborn ones giving it brownii a go this year. I received a specimen from Wolfgang Gießler last October, grafted on delavayi-root. That root sure looked great when I planted it. I have good hopes it will flower this spring already, as is usual for these types of plants.
From what I understand from Wolfgang, brownii is fine with wet winter conditions, but it cannot handle water on the crown in the summer (that critical time would be starting after flowering, I presume). Well, that will be tough luck for it in our Dutch climate…..
I am hoping for multiple flowers, and will try to get some pollen from it and keep it for an odd-ball pollination. Probably the best I can do, since I don’t expect it to live long – brownii just doesn’t seem designed for our Dutch “summers”. Although I remain hopeful that the furious power of delavayi will keep it alive for more than one growing season. I’ll try to give an update here in April when it decides to show top growth for me.
2018, March 14th at 03:35 #19011
Ruud, interestingly enough, the plants I got the seeds from still had green foliage at the time the seeds were ripe, even though the soils were quite sandy and our summer had been unusually dry and without rain. If I were more bold, I’d head out into the woods, away from human habitation, and dig one of these things up to see what the root system in nature looks like. Do it’s roots head deep down into the soil, or do it’s roots spread out sideways like most peonies do ? I imagine the trick would be to avoid the temptation to water this thing during the summer, even though other garden plants would seem to be suffering from a lack of precipitation. Bob
2018, March 14th at 20:40 #19012
It would be interesting to see a mature root system. But I’m glad you’re respecting the wild enough not to be that bold.
No chance for success in our climate then (often wet summers!). Hardly ever get tempted to water peonies in the midst of summer here 🙂
2018, April 29th at 13:27 #19013
Here it is again Bob, in the Dutch Dirt. Needs “The Hand”, but fun it is. Now to see if I can get some pollen from it.
2022, December 17th at 20:28 #30333
Not sure if anyone will see this, but a friend and I did dig up a P Brownii plant out of the woods last fall (It was her idea) to take home and see if it would grow for us. What we got seems to be two plants that had grown from two seeds that had germinated next to each other. And was growing in an area of loose sandy soil by the side of a road where it looked like cars had occasionally driven over it. By “reading” the crown development, it would seem that these seedlings were around 5 years old.
As you can see, these particular plants did not seem eager to make new roots from the crown area, as many other peonies tend to do.
Having said that, there would have been not a shread of doubt that this was a member of the peony family, in that the roots have the exact same strong odor that other members of the peony family do.
After more delay than I am happy to admit, I finally got the smaller of the two roots hastily planted in a raised area, without much preparation other than digging a hole in our sandy soil (soil that is pretty much identical to the soil we had dug it from) and planting it.
Somewhat to my surprise, it came right up this spring. I watched it as it developed, expecting it to collapse and die at any moment, but it seemed to be happy enough as the season progressed. I did water it on occasion in the early spring, to simulate melting snow ,which it didn’t seem to mind.
Everything seemed fine that is, until I went out one day, only to find that a deer had eaten it. Which I felt was odd, in that the plants in the wild never seem to be molested by deer in any way. Deer can be curious though, so I suspect that that was the situation.
Will it come up again next year ? Perhaps, although I’m not expecting much, as plants in the wild can be fairly prolific with their foliage during the growing season, and this plant never got much of a chance for that.
My friend planted the larger root, but I’m not sure what sort of success she had. Although I had the chance to talk to another gardener in my neighborhood who spoke of having success transplanting them to her home garden.
If I were to characterize our growing conditions, I’d say we have generally dry springs, summers, and falls, with most of our moisture coming in the form of snow during the winter while the plants are dormant.
2022, December 18th at 11:16 #30334khurtekantModerator
I saw it 🙂 Nice to see the roots and indeed they don’t seem to grow new roots from the crown. Would make a challenging candidate to divide… Pity about the deer eating it of course. I have planted a root received from Giessler in Germany which looked rather good and strong. Don’t know if it will grow here, I don’t have those dry spring, summer and fall season. I’d love trying to hybridize with it, but given that nobody has succeeded in this, the odds are against me of course.
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