Peony Seeds

Submitted by vanachterberg on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 04:23

I harvested seeds of Paeonia mlokosewitschii (the lovely yellow 'Molly the Witch') on July 14. They were stlll wet and in a pod with some interesting red stuff that looked like caviar floating among the seeds. I have kept them in an open paper cup and after a few days they are no longer wet and do not seem to have shriveled. But they are not dark, like the Paeonia tenuifolia rosea seeds I collected last month. By the way these are the only 2 species of peony I grow--oh, I have the red Paeonia tenuifolia, but did not see any seeds on that one. I have several more pods of P. mlokosewitschii--what is the optimal time to collect the seeds? I live in Connecticut.
Barbara van Achterberg


Submitted by Anne Spiegel on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 08:46

Barbara, I thought it was much later, when the seeds turn that sensational red and then come off easily in your hand.  That's a "thought", not a "know".  I grow this too, and it's one of my favorites and has been allowed in the rock garden proper.  Nearby are some Gentiana acaulis which certainly makes for a primary color experience.  I still remember as a fledgling seed grower, putting out seedlings of Papaver rhaeticum and Gentiana verna.  It was a fabulous color scheme but unfortunately didn't last.

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:44

Barbara, I can only comment in part by mentioning that peony seeds that stay red rather than turning black are apparently ones that are not fertile.

Submitted by vanachterberg on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 15:18

Oh dear, one great gardener tells me I should wait until the seeds turn red, and another tells me that only black peaonia seeds are fertile. My 'Molly the Witch' seeds are almost black. I guess I will let the rest ripen longer in the pods.

Now, can anyone tell me how to start a new thread? Seed saving, maybe?
Barbara van Achterberg

Submitted by Anne Spiegel on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 15:54

Barbara, if I remember correctly, the seeds are red and gorgeous and come off in your hand when they are black. I always assumed it was a color change process, but I've never collected the seeds.  I'd prefer to divide it.  This is a large garden but Paeonia does take up space.  It's too hot to check and see what they look like now, maybe later.

Submitted by Anne Spiegel on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 04:33

Lori, thanks for posting the site. 
Barbara, I checked my "Molly the Witch" when the sun went down (too brutally hot before then), and the pods are all still closed, nowhere close to opening.  Memory tells me the seed is mixed in color.  I just don't recall if it's mixed colors at the start or if the darker colors develop as the seed ripens.  I've made a note to do some observing.  This is really interesting.  From a color standpoint, of course I prefer the infertile seed - what a sensational color.

Submitted by Nicolson on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 12:25

My P. obovata shows glorious color when the pods ripen and split open; the fertile seeds are dark blue, the sterile ones are red and slender, and the exposed inner side of the ovary (pod) is maroon - makes a nice dried "flower".

Alice Nicolson
Arlington VA Z7 - 95 degrees, feels like 105.

Submitted by Anne Spiegel on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 13:02

Great picture, thanks for posting.

Submitted by Lori S. on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 13:05

Wow, spectacular picture, Alice!  The seedpods won't be opening for some time yet here... actually, I still have peonies in bloom!

Submitted by RickR on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 22:07

Glorious color indeed, Alice! 

I have no peonies in my yard, but P. obovata would definitely be welcome!

Submitted by cohan on Sun, 07/24/2011 - 15:17

Lori wrote:

Wow, spectacular picture, Alice!  The seedpods won't be opening for some time yet here... actually, I still have peonies in bloom!

Peonies here have just barely opened, and some have not fully yet!

Submitted by vanachterberg on Sat, 07/30/2011 - 18:15

I just found a statement in print (The Perfect Plant by David Joyce)that answers my question about when to gather seeds of Paeonia Mlokosewitschii. "A surprise in autumn is the combination of scarlet and glossy black when the seedpods split open." So I will wait till fall to harvest the remaining seeds.

Submitted by Lori S. on Sat, 07/30/2011 - 19:15

Oh, was that your question?  Sorry, I didn't pick up on what you were actually asking about... my apologies.  Yes, for any peony, wait until the seed pod opens on its own.  Then, pick the dark seeds (which are the ones that were fertilized).

Submitted by cohan on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 15:54

Hmm, I was recently given some seedpods from a fernleaf peony.. all I see are some small med brown seeds.. does this mean those would be all sterile seeds?

Submitted by Peter George on Wed, 08/31/2011 - 16:53

This is what peony seeds look like if they are viable.

Submitted by Lori S. on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 07:13

And to add to Peter's helpful photo, the round dark seeds are the viable ones. (There are also some nonfertile red seeds in the photo.)

Submitted by cohan on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 18:01

How large is what is shown in the photo? Nothing I received looks like any part of that image-- no red, no blue/black, no green, and not wide open..
What I got is some semi-woody partly open, slightly fuzzy brownish capsules with small brown seeds (??)... time for google, I guess...

Submitted by Peter George on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 19:08

The seeds in my photo are about the size of wild blueberries. The seeds in your picture are non-viable.

Submitted by cohan on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 19:24

Peter wrote:

The seeds in my photo are about the size of wild blueberries. The seeds in your picture are non-viable.

Thanks, Peter; its not my photo, its from Flickr; so the fernleaf should have similar seeds to the other peonies? The picture on Flickr shows a fresher seedpod (still green) unlike the dried ones I have, but there is still nothing resembling the red things in your photo....?

Submitted by Lori S. on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 19:35

I agree with Peter that those are nonfertile seeds in the linked photo.  My double-flowered fern-leaf peony produces only non-viable seeds that look, at best, like the linked photo (though the pods in the photo are also green and immature).  Viable peony seeds are rounded in shape and dark in colour.  

Halda (The Genus Paeonia) states that peony seeds are brown to black, smooth and relatively large, and that seeds of P. tenuifolia, specifically, are cylindrical in shape and 4mm x 8mm.  

Here's a pod of Paeonia veitchii, which opened on its own and contains one viable seed:

Here's a couple of barely-opened pods on P. mlokosewitchii, which contain only unfertilized seeds:

Here's a pod of P. officinalis, which I popped open prematurely, which contains dark fertilized seeds, and red unfertilized seeds:

For scale (millimeters), here is a fertile P. officinalis seed on left and a dried fertile seed of P. veitchii on the right:

Submitted by Mark McD on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 19:47

Here is Paeonia wittmanniana, in flower, then an open seed pod with brilliant red unfertilized seeds, and the last photo shows a bunch of unfertilized red seeds and a single fertilized black-purple berry-like seed.  Lori, I think we were posting at exactly the same time :D

Submitted by Sellars on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 21:13

This is a really interesting and useful thread.  It would be good to have more pictures of seeds on the Forum.  There is not much info on the web and it is often unreliable.

In an article in the Rock Garden Quarterly a while back Kristl Walek advised " Know your seed".  Thats all very well but what if you don't know every seed - there is an amazing variety of seed types among species.

Submitted by cohan on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 22:16

I agree with David--some interesting images :)
Someone on ColdZone Yahoo group posted an interesting picture of several types of Peony seed side by side.. the fernleaf seeds are much smaller than the herbaceous cultivar seeds, and they are not at all round, cylindrical would be a better word-- or almost like a fat watermelon seed (I've asked if I can share the photo).. they are certainly black, though...
So would the fernleaf (tenuifolia? really I know nothing about peonies!) have had those pink or red non-viable seeds at some stage? None in the unripe photo I linked to, and certainly none in the dried pods I have

I think there was some kind of seed pods on one or another of our peonies in some past year (didn't pay much attention -no interest in those cultivars/hybrids) but this year all any of them have is big clumps of dead it was so cold and wet this summer, most of the flowers didn't even fully open..

Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 09/02/2011 - 07:33

Halda shows a line drawing comparing various Paeonia seeds (page 31, if you have access to the book, or try here: ).

The seeds of P. tenuifolia are shown as rounded oblongs - not literally cylindrical, but longer than they are wide, hence "cylindrical" - not at all shaped like a watermelon seed, though.  If the seeds in the photo you refer to on the other forum are watermelon seed-shaped, I'd assume they are dried, undeveloped, non-fertile seeds*.

*EDIT:  Note - only an assumption on my part!  I only have a double-flowered fern-leaf peony, which doesn't produce viable seeds at all, so I am only guessing from Halda's work.

Submitted by Peter George on Fri, 09/02/2011 - 08:09

I agree that we need to have more seed pictures on the Forum. In addition, it would be extremely helpful to have seedling pictures as well, particularly seedlings with their first true leaves.

On the Peony front, washing/soaking the fertile seeds in 35% hydrogen peroxide for about 30-45 minutes before planting them makes a huge difference in germination. That particular strength of hydrogen peroxide is called 'food grade' is not generally available in drugstores, but can be obtained at health food stores and on the net. It cannot be shipped by the U.S. Post Office at that strength, by the way, so if you are having it shipped, it must come by UPS or FedEx, etc.

Submitted by cohan on Fri, 09/02/2011 - 16:35

Lori-- here's the pic, a matter of description, I suppose, so the image is better than the telling-- I said like a fat watermelon seed, (which I would still say ;) and no they do  not appear to be dry or infertile seeds)-- by which I meant not flat and nothing like the round ones, so cylindrical is still not a bad description..
Here's the comment from the photographer/grower:

These are all peony seeds, the yellow are immature seeds from a herbaceous cultivar, just for size and shape comparison.
Clockwise from the yellow, the 2 seeds by themselves are from a peony which has the fernleaf peony as one parent, the next group is from P.anomala (Ural peony) and the smallest seeds in the bottom right corner are from the fernleaf peony. I have germinated seeds that are this size from the fernleaf peony, so I'm quite sure this is what they're s'posed to look like.

from Barb Adams Eichendorf in Saskatchewan

No peony books here, and this is probably the only time I would have need of speaking of which, if the seeds are fleshy, as they appear, do they need to be sown immediately, or can they be stored/sold commercially?

Submitted by Mark McD on Sat, 09/03/2011 - 08:46

Being a Paeonia newbie myself, a couple years in a row I actually sowed all of the red seeds from my P. wittmanniana plant; certainly the seeds look plump and fleshy enough like kernals of corn, but then one year one seed capsule produced a much larger much more plump black-purple berry-like seed among all of the red "corn kernals"; I googled around, and then discovered the red-color seed are unfertilized seed and that I wasted my effort sowing them, and it was the large juicier blue or black berries that are the viable fertilized seeds.  That's why forums such as NARGS can be so useful, to learn about some of the odd & fascinating idiosyncrasies in the world of plants.

Submitted by Peter George on Sat, 07/21/2012 - 08:24

Well, I've got a ton of nice, big 'blueberry' seeds of P. veitchii, and now I need to know what to do with them in order to get the best chance of germination. Do I let them dry, or do I plant them immediately? Then do I refrigerate them, or leave them 'warm' for 2 months or so before the days cool? Do I wash them in Hydrogen Peroxide? Advice, please. Plus, if you want a few, let me know. I've got maybe 40 extra seeds, so I can send to at least a few of you.

Submitted by Hoy on Sat, 07/21/2012 - 14:43

Peter, I always sow peony seeds as soon as I get them without doing anything special. They're outside during the winter and most of them germinate in the spring.
Seeds that fall from the shrubby peonies (it is impossible to remove them all) germinate like cress underneath the shrubs.

Submitted by vanachterberg on Tue, 07/31/2012 - 17:32

One year later...Well, here it is July 31, 2012 and yesterday I collected my first seedpod off that Paeonia mlokosowitschii. It has the larger black berries with the little red ones around them. Some of the red ones were already falling onto the ground.  I am thinking that I should let them dry in a paper cup and then take the seeds out of the black berries. How many will there be in each fleshy berry? And how soon should I refrigerate them?
There are several more pods that have not opened yet. I will watch them but not rush them.

Last year I never got any more seeds after the shriveled seed I collected too early in the summer

Submitted by Hoy on Wed, 08/01/2012 - 00:21

The black 'berries' are the seeds! No need to do anything with them! The red ones are not fertile seed but bait for birds.
If you sow them at once they germinate easily next spring. If you want to store them, you must let them dry. Then they'll be hard and dry but germinate less easily.

Submitted by chris.wyse on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 20:12

Peter wrote:

Well, I've got a ton of nice, big 'blueberry' seeds of P. veitchii, and now I need to know what to do with them in order to get the best chance of germination. Do I let them dry, or do I plant them immediately? Then do I refrigerate them, or leave them 'warm' for 2 months or so before the days cool? Do I wash them in Hydrogen Peroxide? Advice, please. Plus, if you want a few, let me know. I've got maybe 40 extra seeds, so I can send to at least a few of you.

Hi Peter,

To put things in context, my wife Doris and I were out at your house earlier this year.  I think you were having an open house (garden) a couple of weeks later, which I couldn't attend.  I believe that was because I was traveling to China, Sichuan province.

Anyway, while I was in China, I saw many unusual plants.  One of the ones that stuck out was Paeonia veitchii.  This plant looked great growing in the mountains.  I remember you telling me that you had a 'species' peony in your garden.  It's interesting that it turned out to be the same one that I saw in the wild.  I'd love to get a few seeds from you if you haven't given them all away.  Have you decided how you will plant them (dry them and vernalize, or plant in the ground right away)?

Also, I was curious about where you got the original plants/seeds.  I searched the web for any references to the plant and found many pages, but no seeds or plants for sale.  However, I did see P. veitchii var. woodwardii, which is a smaller plant, and there were a couple of sources.  Is that what you have?

P.S.  - I joined NARGS today.  Don't think I'll be attending the conference in NC - I was out there this year for the Native Orchid Conference.  It's a great location, it will be well received.


Submitted by Peter George on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 20:33

I've got plenty of seed right now, some collected and stored, and some still in the seedpods. How do you want to get them? Email me and I'll figure out a way to work out the transfer. The plant originally was purchased from Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill Nursery back in the mid 90s. Her plants always were exactly what she said they were, so I'm confident about this one.

Submitted by Tingley on Wed, 01/09/2013 - 10:31

Hi, I gathered some hybrid herbaceous peony seeds from a friend's garden in late August/early September, and checked their viability by putting them in a glass of water. Those that floated were tossed out, and the sinkers were placed in damp paper towel and put in a ziplock bag. The bag was forgotten on a shelf for a couple of months at room temperature. On re-discovery, most of the seed had germinated. The sprouted seeds were potted up immediately. They are now wintering in our unheated greenhouse, and should show their first vegetative growth in a few months.

Submitted by RickR on Wed, 01/09/2013 - 18:13

It's always a nice surprise when you find things like that.
I've not germinated peony seed, but I have forgotten and rediscovered many a project. ;D

Welcome to the forum, Tingley!

Submitted by Tingley on Mon, 01/14/2013 - 10:40

Thank you, Rick. I've updated the profile a bit so the name has changed. I'm looking forward to the emergence of the peonies!

Submitted by CScott on Sat, 01/26/2013 - 09:08

All the peony seeds which I received from the Exchange are a dark almost black.
I have been soaking them in hydrogen peroxide solution for several days.
I did nick them,but some are still floating.  They all seem hard and heavy.
So I am going to place them all in moist vermiculite and place them in a warm spot.

I have tried wintersowing peony seeds---but no luck so far-----
I have kept the jugs,--- and perhaps I may be surprised come spring. :o :o :o

My plan is three months warm, one month moderate, three months in 'frig.

Submitted by Hoy on Sun, 01/27/2013 - 00:08

When I plant peony seeds I place the pot outside and let the weather do the job.
Fresh seeds (not dried) germinate during the winter/spring but old dry seeds take a year longer.

Peony seeds usually are dark brown, dark blue or black when fresh and dark brown or black when dry.

Submitted by Lori S. on Sun, 01/27/2013 - 11:15

As Gordon alluded to in his post above, it might be useful to mention that the seeds of many Paeonia have hypogeal germination (see Deno's Seed Germination Theory and Practice). In other words, the seed produces a root (radical) at the initial stage of germination, but growth of the above-ground seedling (cotyledon) is delayed. 

I haven't grown Paeonia from seed (or at least not successfully  :rolleyes:) but in light of the above, it seems like it might be a good idea to dig up the seeds and check for germination before giving up?  It could be that the seed has germinated but one might think it has not, if the cotyledon is not yet visible.

Here's a photo of some self-sown Paeonia officinalis seedlings (dug up to move elsewhere) that show hypogeal germination, with the seed still attached:

Submitted by Cockcroft on Sun, 01/27/2013 - 12:16

I've been growing peonies from seed exchange offerings for several years.  I sow them in a pot and then like Trond put them outside and let the weather do its best.  Some that I've had good luck with include P. mlokosewitschii, suffruticosa, mascula, emodi, lutea ludlowii, obovata, tenuifolia, delavayi, and witmanniana.  All are lovely but very slow to flower from seed.  And one is not so lovely, but a favorite of mine anyway, P. brownii.  The biggest problem is finding spots in my garden to plant them out.

It is my experience that patience can be rewarding.  I also remember that some seeds wanted to pop out of the soil, so vigilance in re-burying them is important.  :)

Submitted by CScott on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 12:02

Now that is encouraging!
I am wondering about the info above that old seeds germinate less readily.
Deno suggests otherwise?  Well--- that one year of dry storage improves germination?
Dr. Deno also suggests that GA-3 may help?
Any thoughts on that?

Submitted by Lori S. on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 12:52

CScott wrote:

I am wondering about the info above that old seeds germinate less readily.
Deno suggests otherwise?  Well--- that one year of dry storage improves germination?

I think it comes down to planting them and finding out... If you have enough seeds of the same kind, you could try GA-3 on one batch and compare with the other batch?

Not specific to peonies, but I think a lot of seed behavior is much more species-dependent than one would guess - that different species within a genus may act differently, and so even categorizing behavior by the genus may often be too broad - and Deno's work found lots of example of that.   
He also found that dry storage of seeds of certain species (again not necessarily specific to peonies) actually enhances germination by breaking down germination inhibitors, which goes against the sweeping statements that one often hears or reads about the uselessness of "old seeds".  Fascinating stuff.

Submitted by Hoy on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:34

I haven't tried old peony seeds but I have grown nice plants from 10 years old dry-stored (not cold) tomato seed. Excellent germination ;D

Submitted by Lori S. on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:56

Yes, I've seen that too...  tomato seeds have terrific longevity!

Submitted by RickR on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 16:55

Tomato seeds survive the city's sewage treatment, too.  :o

Submitted by Hoy on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 09:10

RickR wrote:

Tomato seeds survive the city's sewage treatment, too.  :o

Of course, it's the way they are dispersed in nature ;)

Submitted by Peter George on Sun, 10/20/2013 - 09:54

Just to restart the Peony germination thread, I'd like to know as many different methods of handling mature, dry peony seed. I've been out in the garden these past few days, and I've collected a few dozen seeds from several different species, and I'd like to get something more than an empty pot! I've got GA3, but have never used it with peony seeds. Can I give them a boiling water bath? Should I scarify them? Use hydrogen peroxide? Soak them in water overnight? Some of the above? All of the above? Thanks in advance.

I have used the following method in the past Peter and been rather successful.

Paeonia sp. seeds are doubly dormant. Sow and expose to winter cold or chill for a couple of months before sowing. Roots develop during the first year. The seeds then need a second period of cold before the shoots appear. 

I've never had to resort to GA3 etc., although I'm not saying that these methods won't work, smiley.

Hope you'll show us your results.

Submitted by paulhschneider on Sat, 01/18/2014 - 11:12

Germinating peony seed..

In the past I've had problems germinating peony seed from the Seed Exchange. Jim Waddick gave me a tip that really helps: Plant the seed in a pot buried to the rim in a place in the garden where you won't lose it. I cover the pot with a piece of mesh cut from a sheet of metal lath( purch from Lowe's, Home Depot) which allows rain & weather to pass through but keeps out the squirrels & chipmunks. I've used clay pots with the bottom knocked out to allow ground moisture into the pot. I suppose a plastic pot with the bottom removed would be just as good.I'm sure it would help to water the pots if you encounter a dry spell. Leave the pots in the ground through  a full winter & germination will occur the following spring. I have had good success with this method. I  think the clay pot allows more even contact with the surrounding soil moisture and more closely imitates natural conditions. 


Thanks for your post. I should have mentioned that a second cold period is required for the appearance of peony shoots after the germination period . 

This is what I have done for Peony germination (so far - it has worked for both P.lactiflora hybrid, and P. suffruticosa hybrid seeds). All I do is bundle the seeds in between damp paper towel. The moist packet of seeds then goes into a sealed zip lock freezer bag, and is placed on a shelf at room temperature- ideally somewhere that it won't be forgotten. Within about two to three months, the seeds send out a root radicle. That is when the sprouted seeds are potted up, and sent to the unheated greenhouse over winter, where they experience plenty of cold. Shoot growth is quite rapid in early spring.

Submitted by Gryboski on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 06:44

During the second winter, are you keeping them moist? dry?  I've had some germinate but then go to mush the second winter and I would like to prevent that.

I would keep them barely moist through the second winter.

Our greenhouse isn't heated, and relies on a pump for water from a pond. After losing a few pumps to freezing, we disconnect the pump after giving the plants one last watering in December or January (if the cold arrives late). I put pots on the dirt floor of the greenhouse, so they can get a bit of moisture wicking up from the ground. If things get really dry, I sometimes will top the pots with a bit of snow to give a little extra moisture.

The following species that were received from NARGS and SRGC seed exchanges early in 2014 have now germinated below ground: Paeonia emodi, Paeonia mloksewitshii, Paeonia obovata alba, Paeonia suffruticosa alba. Above ground growth should appear in Spring 2015.

For germination I soak the seeds for a couple of days and then place then in baggies. since the seeds are large, I use Promix (peat soiless mix), or paper towel. They are kept moist. I might give them a cold treatment, but I don't think it is required. I leave them sitting on my desk. A radicle appears in 3-15 months. When it does, and it is more than 2 cm long (length does matter according to some recent studies), they go into a fridge at about 7 C. While in the cold the radicle will develop side roots and root hairs. In theory they can be left in this state for quite awhile so you can time the next growth phase, however I have had then leaf out in the fridge. Once the root has grown to a good size (not that critical) I move the baggies to normal room temps, at which point the first leave emerges. I try to time things so this happens in spring. They are potted up, and go outside for the summer.

The pictures show some bags of seeds sitting on my desk right now. They have not yet gotten a cold treatment so the radicle is just one long piece with no side branches. They are more than ready for the fridge--I am just waiting a few more weeks to time for them spring potting.

.seedling of Peonia anomala seedling of Peonia anomala

seedling of Peonia anomala
seedling of Peonia anomala

Submitted by Gryboski on Mon, 01/19/2015 - 19:43

Thank you both for your input.

I've just begun experimenting with baggies.  You save on space and materials, you get a visual without pawing in the soil, it's an altogether easier way to do things.  I appreciate your discussion on timing the move to cold so subsequent potting up comes in spring.