Albiflora X Officinalis
Officinalis and its many relatives grow wild over much of southern Europe. Long ago introduced into European gardens, they have given rise to a number of garden varieties, double as well as single. Rubra Plena is the best known. There is a good deal of confusion as to the origins and the nomenclature of many of these. Whether lobata, officinalis, Otto Froebel, etc., are, or are not, related to one another, they give, when crossed with albiflora, hybrid strains that are all quite distinct from one another.
Officinalis in its many varieties has given not only a very large share of America's herbaceous hybrid peonies, but many of these are of the highest quality, with new and vivid colors heretofore totally lacking in herbaceous peonies.
Single Crimson Officinalis
Dr. Saunders' notes say: "I have no plant of the wild P. officinalis that I can be sure is true. The forms of it that I have used, and there are many, are the garden varieties, and particularly a single crimson seedling of one of these which appeared in my garden many years back."
He started in, about 1917, to cross this plant with Chinese peonies, and with good success, for it eventually fathered all those hybrids later brought together under the name, "Challenger Strain." These are tall robust plants, stout and straight of stem, with glossy, almost tropical foliage, and the flowers in shades of vivid crimson, sometimes measuring eight inches wide.
The cross takes with fair ease, giving an average of about six seeds per cross. In 1921, two hundred and twenty-three seeds were gathered, which produced thirty-three plants, of which three were introduced.
The strain includes Challenger, Defender, Mariner, Erebus, and Tantrums. The mother of the first two was the great seed-setting albiflora, Primevere, which has also produced Chalice and other hybrids.
Tantrums has a huge center of tousled golden stamens; Mariner and Erebus are deepest maroon red; all are single. The blooming season in Clinton is from late May into early June.
The "Challengers" made their debut at Boston in 1928 and at Washington in 1929, and in both years they caused a sensation and came home with medals and awards. Though the strain as a whole shows extreme sterility, an occasional seed is set. Some ten years were devoted to working on this cross before we find the note: "No pollen in 1928. And I think I have about enough of this strain."
Miscellaneous Officinalis (Including Otto Froebel)
"There is such a bewildering variety of hybrids between albiflora and officinalis that one hardly knows where to begin with them," wrote Professor Saunders in 1941. "It seems that each separate variety of officinalis imparts peculiar characters to its offspring. Thus the "Challenger" group is quite different from that in which the officinalis parent was the variety Sabini, and these in turn are quite distinct from that large and important group derived from lobata or lobata Sunbeam. Lobata itself is a variable plant. I have several times raised batches of seedlings of lobata, and they do not come at all uniform in color. . . . [47:] It seems to make a lot of difference what form of lobata one has to work with.
The plants from Amos Perry, with flowers of brilliant vermilion, gave progeny whose flowers vary from pale salmon pink to crimson, but chiefly in salmon, coral, and cherry pink a most lovely range of colors. But I have also a crimson form of lobata and when I used that
on the Chinese peonies, I got a group of plants which are all crimsons, varying in depth of color, but without one pink in the whole group. . . ."
"A group that has greatly interested me is that derived from the variety Otto Froebel." This plant bore rosy-salmon flowers, and produced among its hybrid children several very brilliant pinks; they were the nearest to a true "'salmon" at that time [about 1931]. They appeared particularly well under the artificial lighting of the exhibit hall and won many awards, starting with their debut with the "Challengers" in 1928 in Boston. Lotus Bloom and Victoria Lincoln are still prized, but the rest were cast into the shade by the much finer pinks that appeared in the late thirties in the great race of lobata hybrids. Among the many hybrids derived from still other forms of officinalis five are worthy of special mention: Edward Steichen (very dark red) and Postilion (scarlet crimson) are both from officinalis The Sultan. Emblem (very early), and Legion of Honor are two more good reds; and Madrigal, a pale blush double, is from the double officinalis Lize van Veen crossed by a double pink albiflora.
These varieties are all reciprocal crosses, i.e. albiflora crossed onto officinalis.