Cut flowers

Mountains of Flowers

When you think of Alaska, what comes to mind? Mountains, forests, bears and, of course, moose. But did you know that the 49th state has a thriving peony industry? There are currently over 100 growers statewide as far north as Nome and Fairbanks.

Home-grown. Photo : Alaska Peony Cooperative.

Alaska’s Peony Market

Before statehood, peony roots were difficult to transport. “The first recorded plantings were at the coastal USDA Agricultural Experiment Station in Sitka during the first decade of the 1900s, but there is little history, both written or photographic, of peonies in gardens through the mid-1900s.  In the 1970s, peony roots could be purchased at most of the major Alaska greenhouse/nursery businesses but often only as ‘reds, whites and pinks.’ Fast forward to the present, and the peony is one of Alaska’s most popular garden flowers, and public display gardens proudly exhibit a diversity of species and cultivars.” From an article in the American Peony Society Summer Bulletin.

Looking  into peonies as a specialty cut flower in Alaska began in 2000 when research was begun at the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The goal was to learn if peonies could be grown as field-grown cut flowers, and interest quickly spread throughout the State.

A Fairly Recent Market

Dr. Patricia Holloway of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Natural Resources and Extension was the first to recognize the commercial opportunities of the peony industry in Alaska. Her research and public education efforts were instrumental in helping peony growers throughout the state capitalize on Alaska’s unique growing season.

A Seasonal Market

 “The worldwide peony cut-flower trade is seasonal with the largest gap in production from July through September. Because of our northern environment, and relatively cool summer temperatures, peonies begin blooming in Alaska the last week of June and continue through September depending on the season and location. Our statewide industry now includes commercial peony farms with exports to every state in the United States as well as Europe, Asia, Canada, and the Middle East. Along with commercial interests, northern gardeners have rediscovered peonies and have formed a statewide Alaska Peony Society (https://www.alaskapeonysociety.org). Peonies inspire Alaskans and surprise out-of-state visitors whose peonies have long faded by the time people take their Summer vacations to the Last Frontier. “From an article by Pat Holloway.

Paeonia ‘Coral Sunset’. Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative.
Peony field. Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative.

The Alaska Peony Cooperative

The Alaska Peony Cooperative was established in the spring of 2015 to allow many farms to achieve more collectively than as individual farms. Martha Lojewski, Executive Director and  Sales Manager is also the co-owner of Mt. McKinley Peonies. She and husband Nathan live in  Willow, Alaska and specialize in 8 varieties.

Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative.
Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. Photo: AK Peony Cooperative.

Peony Shipping

Ready to ship! Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative.

Flowers are harvested in bud and refrigerated . Because if its unique location, Alaska growers can ship anywhere in 8 hours. At the time of this writing, it is shipping time so the farmers are busy filling orders.

“Elsa Sass”. Grow big or go home! Photo: Alaska Peony Cooperative.

While some peonies have little or no scent, or even a rather unpleasant one, there are many varieties from highly fragrant to lighter scents. See the article under Resources tab on the Alaska Peony Cooperative site for more detailed information on fragrant species.

‘Pecher’, a fragrant variety. Photo: Mt. McKinley Peonies.
‘Bartzella’ isn’t on the list of the most fragrant, but it is on the list of the most beautiful. Photo: Mt. McKinley Peonies.

For more information on peonies in Alaska, visit American Peony Society website.

In case you were wondering, moose don’t eat peonies.

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

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