Sunday, May 3, 2009

Garden Silk and Swallowtails

beetle pollinated Paw paw blooms
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly- I call these" Paw Paw Swallowtails"
Linda Hall Library, Kansas City Missouri -Peony Collection

Tree Peony "High Noon"


Not Kentucky Derby Silks, Chinese tree Peony silks!
"Royal Carriage"
With so much rain here, it's been hard to get important tasks done! Seeds need starting, Lilacs need crossing and all the tree Peonies need to be enjoyed! I have a dozen Chinese and Japanese tree peonies in my garden, but the big show of silks is at Linda Hall Library on the campus of the University of Missouri, Kansas City. I've stopped by a few times in the last week or so...the rain never let the petals open fully until Saturday. They have some amazing seedlings from prominent breeders in the U.S. as well as some ancient Chinese selections. The ancient Chinese would plant the special tree Peonies on man made "Peony mountains" for viewing...a garden hill of exquisite blooms. When in bloom, the individual woody Shrubs would have sun parasols erected to shield the transitory blooms from the elements,The often poetic names of these venerable shrubs always make me smile. " Jade Concubine", "sleeping Crane" get the idea.

The other special bloom this week are the native Paw Paw trees. I love Paw Paws for their large sub tropical foliage and the cool burgundy blooms in the Spring. They are pollinated by beetles, but I've never witnessed that, maybe this happens at night? I'm not sure. The other great thing about Paw Paws is that they are the larval food for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly-I always call them Paw Paw swallowtails, but that's just me. They look black and white at first, but upon closer inspection, they are actually a pale turquoise and black, with cherry red accents. The generation that hatches out of their chrysalis in the spring has the longest tails...subsequent generations have shorter and shorter tails until the end of the season. It's hard to find the larvae of this Swallowtail, they leave the Paw Paw foliage during the day, and return at night to feed in solitude. Paw Paws (Asimina triloba) make interesting under story trees, they also produce oblong fruits that have an interesting banana custard like taste. I've tried them, but the wild varieties that grow at Hiddenfield farm are not the best for eating. If you want to plant some for eating, several good varieties are on the market..."Sunflower", "Pennsylvania Golden", "Mango" are some you can locate easily through mail order nurseries. They grow and like the same conditions that American Red Bud trees like(Cercis canadensis) Moisture, dappled light-not hardy beyond zone Five. They seem to like loamy soil, not good in heavy clay. Several trees planted in a group will improve pollination and fruit set.


  1. Hello Brian;

    I know you live close to some good peony growing land but take a look at which is the site for Brothers Herbs and Peonies in Oregon. Excellent tree peonies! Owner's father is Allan Rogers, author of Peonies, published by Timber Press.

    I meant to say that I met a woman several years ago from Claremont, NH area and her special interest was bergamont.She had quite an offering from her hybridizing work. For us it is a hummingbird magnet which is a free marketing agent people love.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener
    Vermont Flower Farm

  2. Thanks George, I'll check it out!