Paeonia californica is a perennial herbaceous plant of 35–70 cm high, that retreats underground in summer, and reoccurs with the arrival of the winter rains. It has lobed leaves, elliptic (cup-shaped) drooping flowers with dark maroon-colored petals, and many yellow anthers. It flowers mostly from January to March (or sometimes as early as December or as late as May), and later develops two to five fruits per flower. Its common name is California peony and it is sometimes also referred to as wild peony. This peony is an endemic of southwestern California (USA), where it is not rare, and northernmost Baja California (Mexico). It grows on dry hillsides in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral communities of the coastal mountains of Southern and Central California, often as an understory plant.

It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the other Paeonia species native to North America, Paeonia brownii.

The California peony is a summer-deciduous perennial herbaceous plant of 35–75 cm high. Each shoot usually carries seven to twelve compound leaves, each primary segment is 3–9 cm long and 1–6 cm wide, and the finest divisions are linear to spade-shaped. The base of the leaflet blade narrows gradually into the leaflet stalk, which is short or may be absent. The tips of the leaflets are usually pointy, and the surface of the leaf is green and not particularly glaucous. The bisexual flowers occur at the tip of the stem and are nodding. The petals are dark red or purplish, sometimes almost black, while the margins are lighter, elliptic in shape and 1½–2½ cm long, usually longer than the sepals. The numerous stamens consist of filaments of ½–¾ cm topped by anthers of ⅓–⅔ cm long, containing yellow pollen. Two to five carpels eventually develop into follicles of 3–4 cm long. The seeds are about 1½ cm long, slightly curved, and have a dull, coarsely wrinkled surface. P. californica has ten chromosomes (2n=10), like all other diploid peonies.

California peonies have a native distribution in southwestern California (Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura Counties) and in neighboring Mexico (northern Baja California), although distribution in Mexico is poorly known. It grows on dry hillsides in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral communities of the coastal mountains of Southern and Central California, often as an understory plant between sea level and 1500 m elevation.

Observations Map

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