Western Peony

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.

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6 Responses to Western Peony

  1. jean tymoczko says:

    could be, what threw me was our weather here “found in cheswick” does not from what i am reading on line, fit this plants growing needs, growing up here you know about our rainy and humid climate and its says to much water kills the roots, just saying because they are dormant in hot weather and its been raining heavy for days, its really taken well in my garden so i will just enjoy the gift nature gave me. thank you JEANNE

  2. Isabel says:

    love your article about peony flower! I’m sure a lot of people will be very pleased after reading this and likewise to the same topic I wrote in my Blog.
    But also, I write articles on different kinds of flowers from the pictures I take and share them to my readers.
    I hope to read more from your future posts and maybe you can also drop by my blog! Take care always and God bless!
    http://www.superbflower.com

    • gingkochris says:

      Glad you enjoyed the wild peony!

      • jean tymoczko says:

        was at a friends berry farm in s. w. penna. went hiking down hill and between a field of squash and tomatos and saw this low to the ground plant, i thought it was rocket that had gone wild but looking closer it had these flowers i had never seen before ,i love our native wild flowers in penna. and have a flower and herb garden of just our local plants any ways i uprooted the plant because it was growing in the tractor path brought it home and transplanted in my garden , researching on line left me to question how it came to be in penna. because by what i am reading it is found only out west, any input would be helpful thank you Jeanne

      • gingkochris says:

        Perhaps it was a cultivated peony that naturalized? I grew up in Western Pennsylvania (near Butler) and miss some of your wildflowers – hepatica, for instance.

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