Finally!! The western peony (Paeonia brownii) drops its petals shortly after the flower appears, although the stamens remain into the fall. Although I have many photographs of western peony flowers without their petals, a picture with petals has eluded me. At last, this weekend I caught a western peony near the Dan Ryan Meadow along Ash Creek (Lassen County CA) in “full” bloom.
There is only one peony native to North America. (Well, some botanists separate a subspecies of P. brownii into a separate genus. Those belonging to this camp say there are two.) A perennial that sprouts from clustered, fleshy roots, the western peony is found amid the sagebrush, chaparral and ponderosa pine forests from California to British Columbia and east to Montana, Wyoming and Utah.
Also commonly called Brown’s peony, the western peony grows between a half foot and two feet in height. Usually several stems occur in a cluster. The pinnately divided leaves are fleshy, waxy and bluish in color. The flower, which occurs at the stem top, hangs downward and is often hidden by leaves, making it fairly inconspicuous. The 8 to 13 maroon petals are in a cup shape and are surrounded by five leathery green to purple sepals. Many stamens surround 2 to 5 thick pistils. Although the peony flower can self-pollinate, many insects also visit the flower for its sweet nectar.
The western peony root is edible, however, since I find this plant to be fairly uncommon I never tried a sample. The genus name, Paeonia, comes from Paeon, the physician to the Greek gods. Various infusions, poultices, and teas made from western peony were used by Native American for coughs, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, swellings, burns, cuts and sores, among other ailments. The genus name is probably well earned.
The species name, brownii, honors Robert Brown (1773-1858). Although Brownian movement, familiar to anyone who has taken physics or chemistry, was noted by and named after this Robert Brown, his primary interest was botany.
I am delighted to have eventually found a flowering western peony.