Collecting Peony Seed – Fantasies Gone Wild

Collecting Peony Seed

Walking through our peony fields in search of seed pods from last springs’ hybridizing efforts fills me with anticipation. My thrill at finding seed on certain varieties sparks my imagination – perhaps it will grow into a peony plant of distinction with maroon stems, deep green serrated leaves, a full double flower with the fragrance of a fine subtle perfume. It might even be a fern leaf; or have the stature of ‘Old Faithful’. The possibilities are endless – at least in my mind.

The huge seed pods on 'Lemon Chiffon' are starting to crack open; I collect the big ripe black seed and will gather more in another week or so. I spy a couple of pods that aren’t quite ready and I can’t wait to find what’s inside, as I crossed them with pollen from 'Little Dorrit' (the most darling little salmon/orange hued peony). While 'Lemon Chiffon' is one of the prolific seed producers, some seed pods (as with other varieties, as well) are ‘blanks’ – with no seed inside. Sometimes your most coveted pods are empty, dashing your hopes for another year. I am skeptical about the 'Little Dorrit' crosses; their carpels don’t appear to be plump enough to have seed inside. I will find out soon enough.

Open Pollinated Seed

I don’t always get a lot of hybridizing accomplished, as I am so busy with cutting flowers, helping our customers and tending to all the other wonderful tasks on a peony farm. This year I scheduled time to make a few crosses and am collecting and labeling seed for fall sowing. In June, as I deadheaded peonies, I left a few buds on a number of seed producing varieties in the hopes that they were open pollinated (bees, insects, wind).  Some of those peonies produce abundant seed that just cascades out of the pods. ‘Bev’, ‘Bo Peep’, ‘Mischief’ and ‘Serenade’ are always like that. This year I found ample seed on ‘Sandra Marie’, ‘Nosegay’, and some double and single yellow tetraploid seedlings. Oh my! Those were just a few of the ‘run of the mill’ open pollinated seeds that I collected this week.

Sorting the Seed

Much of our seed is not yet ripe, so I need to diligently keep after it: gather, sort, bag and label it and get it sowed.  I sort by color, eliminating the infertile bright red seeds: keeping the good brown, maroon, dark blue and black hued seeds. Then I use the ‘float method’ to determine viability: put the seed in a glass of water and eliminate the ones that float - they are often hollow, sterile and won’t germinate.

Planting Peony Seed

We have the best luck sowing peony seed in the fall, watering to keep moist until the rains come; and, then just letting it do its thing until we check for sprouts in early spring. Some seed will germinate the first spring and others the second spring. We keep it simple – no special storage, temperature or somersaults. Just plant it. Outside. I prefer to sow directly into the soil; however, I sometimes grow seedlings in trays that are left outside. Just lightly cover the seed with fine soil. We are in Oregon and other areas of the country may require different methods of germinating peony seed.

When you collect and plant peony seed you look forward to finding seedlings sprout in the spring. You always hope – a strong stem, upright plant habitat and stunning, fragrant flowers. There are lots of duds along the way; and, then comes a sweet one. My peony fantasies – they just get bigger and wilder each time I see a plump new seed.

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