The Precocious Peony’s Premiere Performance

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My ‘precocious’ — courtesy of spending the winter in an unheated garage — teenage tree peony ‘Kamata-fuji’ has spent the past week prepping for her debut flowering performance. Apparantly she loves being center stage in my sunroom! And like any performer she realizes that a single perfect bloom that captures the spotlight is far more dramatic than a flurry of smaller ones. And so the curtain slowly rises on the 4th of April (far earlier than any self-respecting outdoor peony in Zone 7 would ever consider) with one just-coloring bud at the top…

 

 

Building suspense on her “world premiere” day:

 

When you’ve got it, flaunt it, girl!

At this point the bloom diameter is 5.5″ (about 14 cm.) Supposedly these average about 8″ wide but because this is the plant’s very first flower (ever) and developed under abnormal/indoor conditions and in a container, I’m not surprised that it’s smaller than average. It will be interesting to see the eventual flower size once she’s spent a few years in the ground! The flower has a light but noticeable scent.

 

The last two photos show the dark flare at the base of each petal.  The parentage of P. suffruticosa ‘Kamata-fuji’ is unknown; it originated from an unknown Japanese breeder during the late 1890s and was first introduced to commerce in Yokohama sometime before 1909.

 

One concern I do have is that the foliage has been rather “limp”, despite watering, especially on sunnier days; the leaves are definitely firmer on cloudy days and evenings, though not nearly as firm as a comparable amount of growth on an outdoor plant during the normal time for such a display. Once we get past the danger of a late freeze I will be moving this plant, along with the surviving “baby” tree peonies, to a sheltered spot outdoors. The seedlings are in early leaf as well, but years away from Kamata’s status.

Several lovely hybrid cultivars have resulted from crossing ‘Kamata-fuji’ with P. rockii, also known in the trade as ‘Rock’s Variety’ or ‘Joseph Rock’ after the man who first collected seed from the tree peony he found in China in 1926.  P. rockii is white with beautifully contrasting dark purple flares. Among the children of “Rocky” and ‘Kamata-Fuji’ are ‘Lavender Hill’ and ‘Baron Thyssen-Bornesmisza’, the latter having a creamy-white or delicate baby-pink base color (courtesy of the rockii parent) with darker mauve pink petal edges and shadings – and naturally those lovely dark flares!

I hope to be able to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this year and see their collection of 300 tree peonies when they bloom later this month.  Among the examples are mature plants of ‘Kamata-fuji’; there is a photo of them on the BBG website: https://www.bbg.org/collections/gardens/tree_peony_collection

I wonder when or if the flower will fade to lilac/lavender as I have read; it’s possible that under these strange indoor conditions it may hold the original color longer, or even permanently. But if it does fade to lavender, I will update this post with more “precocious peony premiere” photos!