The Santa Margarita is Southern California's last free-flowing river and the 5000 acre preserve is managed by San Diego State University's College of Sciences and Field Stations Program for the purposes of research and education.

by John Bagnasco

Peony Flower
Peony Flower: Photo by Jaroslava Petrášová on Unsplash

While the area is generally off limits to prevent a negative impact on the flora and fauna of the are, it is right across the street from where I built my new home.

Walking around the area in Spring always brings unexpected surprises and while I was aware that there was a native California peony, I had never actually seen one. Until a brief hike a couple years ago, stooped me in my tracks as I behald what was undoubtedly a peony in bloom.

This unique perennial is usually found low on the sides of canyons or on well-lit north facing slopes. Generally, Paeonia californica grows in soil with some clay content but always where there is good drainage from the steepness of the slope. The foliage will appear in the middle of winter and the blooms in March. It is not a rare species in the wild, but it’s uncommon in gardens because it is very particular about conditions. It needs a dry summer dormancy, and normal garden watering will kill it.

The wine-red flowers are nodding and can easily go unnoticed. The California Peony is pollinated by a diverse array of native bee species and sometimes by beetles. The plants die back to their roots as Spring progresses.

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