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Plants in the Garden: Paeonia obovata

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Started by: Alan Jones

Go to latest contribution by John Good, 08 September 2011, 20:30. Go to bottom of this page.

Contribution from Alan Jones 01 August 2011, 20:40top / bottom of page

Paeonia obovata


As alpine gardeners, we all experience what I can only call 'magic moments' of excitement, seeing something that is both intriguing and beautiful. Looking at a bed that looked down out, after its many glories in the spring, I became aware of what at first I thought was a flower, strikingly black and red. On examination, I realised it was seed? of Paeonia obovata. I was tantalised by its awesome form, surely one of nature's little wonders. I now realise that the round black berries are the fertile seeds and the red, in a singularly unusual configuration of shape, are infertile. Could it be the red offer themselves up for consumption by creatures that might make off with the fertile seeds? I have yet to find that out, but my discovery made my day on what is otherwise quite a dull time of year for the plants we love.

Contribution from John Richards 23 August 2011, 21:02top / bottom of page

What a good idea Alan! There is nothing more striking than the contrast in colour between the fertile black (or blue) and infertile scarlet seed of peonies. I would just add that there is a truism (and possibly an oversimplification) that birds are attracted to red, but insects don't see it, hence bird-flowers tend to be scarlet. So, do birds eat infertile peony seeds? They are certainly juicy, and might be sugar rich.

Contribution from Diane Clement 24 August 2011, 11:44top / bottom of page

An intriguing subject. Surely the point of a berry is to attract in the creature that is going to disperse the seed? The plant wants the fertile seed to be dispersed, not the infertile berry. I have a feeling that the red berries don?t get eaten, but I tend to harvest the seed so I?m not sure. And that still leaves us with the question as to why the plant makes the red and black colours, so clearly different. It might be more logical to imagine that the birds think the red ones are under-ripe so avoid them? Are birds the main disperser of paeonies or it is small mammals once the berries have fallen?

Contribution from John Good 08 September 2011, 20:30top / bottom of page
It wasn't just Alan that was attracted by the contrast of red and black!

The obvious but probably too simple explanation is that birds are attracted, just as we are, by the contrast of the black/blue and red seeds, but in that case why don't all paeonies produce both, P. coriacea, for example, has only blue-black seeds.

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