Popular Gardening, 1954
Yellow Herbaceous Peonies
Claire de Lune
WHEN Claire de Lune was exhibited in the American Peony Society Exhibition in Minneapolis this Spring it was being shown for the first time at any flower show. Its blooming period is so early, due to its parentage, that it will rarely be seen in peony shows. It will probably be more often found in the few peony classes which usually find a place in iris shows.
Its heredity is interesting and unique in the peony genus, in that its seed parent is peony Sinensis variety Monsieur Jules Elie, and its pollen parent is the lovely little buttercup yellow species from the Caucasus region, peony Mlokosewitschi. This latter species holds its yellow color until its petals fall, as the pigment is colloidal instead of fluid as in the so-called yellows of the Chinese varieties.
In all breeding, either animal or vegetable, crossing is much easier if the chromosome counts of the two parents are the same. It is for this reason that Claire de Lune is unique as its parents do not have the same number of chromosomes in their sex cells and there are always "dangling" ones left with no mates in the other cell.
The cross which produced Claire de Lune was made in 1939 and for ten years there were 500 hand crosses made each year between the same two parents. Though some seeds were produced which looked as if they might be fertile, this is the only one which ever reached maturity from over 5000 hand crosses.
Claire de Lune, therefore, has no brothers or sisters and it is very doubtful that it ever will have any, as few breeders have the patience to face such a high percentage of failure.
That the Seedling Committee of the American Peony Society should have considered Claire de Lune worthy of the Achievement Medal is gratifying to its originator.
It is truly a lovely flower, of pale creamy yellow color which, like its male parent, will hold until its petals fall. Its form is good with its 10 to 12 rounded petals held in a cupped shape for at least 24 hours. The anthers of the stamens are orange-yellow which adds to the yellow effect by optical illusion and the tips of the carpels are pale pink and therefore do not mar the general picture.
The long period of time which elapsed between its production and introduction was due to the fact that it was thoroughly tested to be sure of its outstanding qualities before it was put out.
It is a source of great satisfaction to its producer, that the blooms which received the award in Minneapolis had been held in cold storage for over three weeks before they were displayed and that they held up for the entire duration of the show.
IT seems a bit strange that Oriental Gold, the only other yellow herbaceous peony besides Claire de Lune known to exist in the western world, should appear in the same country during the same spring. Yet, that's the case. It was exhibited for the first time by its owner Louis Smirnow of Long Island (N. Y.) at the last June Rose and Flower Show of the Men's Garden Club of New York.
The quality of patience stands out in the story of Oriental Gold as it does in that of Claire de Lune. It must have been a patient man of the East who, whether in modern or ancient times, originated it, and it was a very patient man of the West who troubled, at great expense, to bring it to this country. Then, since it is not known when Oriental Gold was created nor what its heredity is, mystery enters its story.
So do knavery and foul play! During 1946 Mr. Smirnow heard, from a Japanese plant broker or agent, that the rumor concerning a true yellow herbaceous double peony was true. One called Aurea could be obtained for 25 dollars per plant. Mr. Smirnow eagerly ordered 6 plants in 1946 and 12 more the next year. Two or three years later, when the plants bloomed in his garden, he was dismayed to see that the first lot produced single-petaled, magenta-colored flowers and the second lot white or pink ones.
In the next few years, disappointment followed disappointment. During 1949 a new agent wrote that he knew of a nurseryman who had many yellow-flowered peonies and that he would, for a consideration by no means small, send Mr. Smirnow all he wanted. Wonderful! Except that when the man wrote again he said the nurseryman, due to the war, had sold his ornamentals and was growing vegetables!
Meanwhile Mr. Smirnow had made several fresh contacts in Japan. One reported in 1950 that 30 plants—from the stock sold by the nurseryman who'd given up flowers for vegetables—could be had for 750 dollars. Mr. Smirnow ordered them. They bloomed in his garden during 1952 and 1953. Not a yellow among them!
During 1950 he also heard from a fellow who said he'd go from Tokyo to a distant village (for just the cost of the journey—200 dollars) where a farmer was known to grow true yellow doubles. He went (perhaps) but he didn't conquer. His next letter informed Mr. Smirnow that he'd taken the tedious trip only to find the farmer gone to a hospital with tuberculosis and admission to his garden was barred.
These and similar misadventures did not crush Mr. Smirnow's hope. In 1951 he bought 12 plants called Yokiki and 6 unnamed ones from two brand new brokers.
Success Crowns Patience
Out of one of these shipments came Oriental Gold.
It is a slightly fragrant, clear yellow double peony, very probably a hybrid, that blooms freely at the same time as the lactiflora varieties. Anthers and stamens are hidden in blooms 4 to 5 inches across and are visible only when the blooms age at which time the petals fade somewhat.
The plant, about 36 inches high, is distinctive. It produces dark leaves of a pure green showing no trace of red, as veins or other markings, seen in the leaves of most peonies. Roots, too, unlike the usual deep gray or muddy brown roots of the average peony, are yellowish.
Two Oriental Gold plants blossomed this year, one which displayed four blooms in Mr. Smirnow's garden and another which displayed eight in the garden of his friend, Dr. David Gurin also of Long Island.
Success hasn't stopped the owner of Oriental Gold from hunting more yellow varieties. While increasing stock of Oriental Gold, which he believes will cause a small revolution in the peony world and open new doors to hybridizers, he continues to receive plants from Japan. One recent importation, called Kinsui, has pure yellow roots. He thinks it very likely will produce flowers of pure gold.