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the humble peony?

humble is not the word for the peony. nor are shy, homely, or understated particularly good ways to describe everybody’s favorite flower. the showy blooms might as well be as big as your head. they are so heavy that the plant can hardly support them, and gardeners must stake the stems or choose to appreciate the flowers lolling in the soil.

these show stoppers actually made my brakes squeal yesterday. yeah. i pulled over just to snap their photos. i don’t think anybody saw. i thought about covertly snipping one with the clippers i had stashed in my purse, but these were garden peonies, and not on my side of the fence, so that’s just wrong.

these are the sort of peonies that make me wish i was a little pixie so i could roll around in all those fluffy petals. is that weird? yeah…it is weird. because peonies, pretty as they are, are often covered in ants attracted to their sweet, sticky nectar. and nobody wants to roll around in ants. gross.
mostly native to china and asia, the peony has a remarkably long history of use as an ornamental plant. all of the widely cultivated varieties are from the asian species. in fact, the united states only has two of its own species. or just one species and a subspecies. it depends on who you ask.
public domain image via wikimedia commons
paeonia brownii is native to the united states. oregon, even. i’ve had the pleasure of seeing this guy in person, and in fact he should be blooming right about now, or just wrapping it up. we’ve had a late spring though, so i bet he’s going strong. i’m afraid i don’t have time to head towards bend and check. p. brownii grows in the sort of high, dry forest full of sagebrush and pondersa pine that live on the other side of the pass.
paeonia brownii is remarkably ugly, but i can’t help but feel a little proud that it grows wild nearby. everybody gushes over peonies so much, and i can’t help but smile and think of this one every time i read about some blogger swooning over a bouquet. and ants. don’t forget the ants.

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