The Crosses of A. P. Saunders
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The largest group of my hybrids were made by using the pollen of P. macrophylla on Chinese peonies. This is a cross analogous to that which was used by Lemoine in the production of his Wittmanniana hybrids Mai Fleuri, Avant Garde, etc. M. Lemoine reports regarding his crosses that he has never had any results from using the pollen of Chinese peonies on blooms of Wittmanniana, but that his named varieties all came from crosses made in the opposite direction, using pollen of Wittmanniana on blooms of Chinese peonies. I have had somewhat the same experience with my hybrids between macrophylla and sinensis. The cross takes fairly well when macrophylla pollen is used on Chinese peonies, but the reverse cross very rarely gives anything at all. I have, I think, from many crosses of the latter sort only two or three plants, none of which are yet of blooming age.
A peculiarity of the crosses made with macrophylla pollen on sinensis blooms is that although the seed is nurtured and matured on a Chinese peony, the blooms of the progeny almost always follow the pattern of the male parent. The characters that govern the form of the flower are evidently highly dominant in macrophylla. The color shows a little greater variation, for although the majority of the hybrids are white-flowered, some of them go into shades of pink. The white-flowered sorts are near enough to the species macrophylla so that most of them would not strike a casual observer as possessing any foreign blood.
It is a different matter with the foliage. Some of the hybrid plants have the green stems and broad light green leaves of macrophylla, while at the other end of the scale there are plants with small deep purple red leaves, shinning as if they were varnished, and in between are all sorts of intermediate forms, some few with bronzy purple foliage in which each leaflet has a green tip. Those with purple or red leaves are not so vigorous in growth as are the green ones, and few of them have yet-bloomed. But as I write many are standing in full bud awaiting a few days of warmth to come into bloom.
Whether anything of value will come out of this group of hybrids it is too soon to say. The best of the white-flowered kinds are very much better plants than the species macrophylla, with larger flowers, running up to nearly eight inches in diameter. I imagine they may be something like Lemoine's hybrid Messagere. That plant I do not possess and so have had no means of comparing it with my own seedlings.
The season of bloom for these hybrids is from one to two weeks earlier than the earliest Chinese peonies.
The Lemoine Wittmanniana hybrids, according to the statement of M. Lemoine himself, are sterile; and my own experience confirms that; for I have never been able to get any results from them, either as pollen parents or seed parents. The same holds true for most of the macrophylla hybrids, although here and there I occasionally find one seed on a plant. From the occasional seeds thus gathered in 1924 I have a couple of germinations this spring, showing at least that the seeds have vitality.
There is a tendency in this group of hybrids to produce flowers of what I might call, for lack of a better name, a cactus type. They are characterized by narrow, somewhat twisted petals. I do not think that they represent a desirable novelty among peonies, but they are at least curious. Among all the pogeny of this cross which had bloomed up to last year there had been nothing but single flowered sorts, good, bad and indifferent. But last May in a small group of seedlings that came from a cross of macrophylla on James Kelway, there were three which were semi-double, one of them almost fully double, and looking a good deal like a delicate little camellia. These little flowers are very attractive and were quite a surprise, coming at that season, about a week earlier than the earliest Chinese sorts...
My main purpose in all this work of cross fertilization has been to strike out if possible into new lines that would produce early flowering types in greater variety and beauty than we have heretofore had. It is still much too soon to pronounce judgement on these plants; many of them bloomed for the first time last year, and very many more have not yet bloomed at all. But the results up to the present have shown at least a few beautiful new forms and there is I think a promise that some of these may be of permanent value for our gardens.. (SOME NEW HYBRID PEONIES , By A. P. Saunders, Clinton, New York in: American Peony Society Bulletin No. 27 June 1926:)