Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Wild Peony

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Wild Peony
Scientific Name:Paeonia californica
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:1 to 2 feet high
Habitat:Chaparral, meadows & ridges
Blooms:December to May

Wild Peony commonly blooms from January to April. Its flowers have petals the color of red-wine, are about an inch and a half long, and have a heavy-looking, downward-cupped shape. They are quite unusual looking, though not very noticable due to their ability to blend in with the rest of the plant. I first admired this plant's bushy foliage and leaf structure before the flowers caught my eye.

The peony relies on winter rains to spring back from its dormant state that it adopts in summer. Often a clump of hollow stems emerges from the roots but it also may grow more individually. Its flowers grow on singular stalks and have 5 or 6 petals, and as they mature develop prominent seed pods at their center. The flowers never open completely, maintaining a cupped shape.

The roots of Wild Peony have quite a history of medicinal uses. The root was ground to a powder and used as a remedy for colds and sore throat by Native Americans. Others made a tea from it, which in small doses purportedly relieved stress, depression, and menstrual pain. Another group was said to eat it raw to aid stomach upset; somewhat of an oxymoron as it is also said that even small doses can cause nausea.

This is the only variety to be found in this area naturally. East coast gardeners cultivate varieties of peony that are thought to be more beautiful. The plant's origins are from Asia.

The last three photos were taken in early February, 2006 on the Potrero Ridge Trail in Thousand Oaks. This particular section of trail was recently cut as a re-route of portions of old trail that was too steep; last October several groups, including the SMMTC, performed maintenance on this new section of trail. A ranger had once told me that peonies are more common on disturbed ground; I was not disappointed in thinking I might find them on this trail.

Contributed by Liz Baumann

Originally featured: February 2006
Last modified: October 14 2017 16:36:00.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves