Georgeson Botanical Garden researchers have been working for the past six years to study the potential for a new, international export crop for Alaska: peonies. Peonies bloom in Alaska in June, July, and August, months when they are not available from the world's main sources of these showy flowers, New Zealand, Israel, and the contiguous United States. Federal grants have enabled the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences to explore the market and horticultural potential for peonies in Alaska.
The results are encouraging:
• Thirty cultivars were evaluated in test plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to determine which ones had the most potential for a peony cut flower industry in the 49th state. Three of these, Sarah Bernhardt, Duchess de Nemours, and Red Charm (pictured above) are recommended for beginning cut flower growers.
• Volume sales will likely mostly be in wholesale export and to East Coast buyers, although small local markets and other options are available. Double blooms are in higher demand than single blooms in national markets.
• Growers should concentrate on the proper harvesting stage specific to the individual cultivar, appropriate post-harvest handling and packaging, marketing and cold chain management, and careful examination of the costs and benefits of selling flowers in available markets.
• Best practices are being established as a result of the research in progress, and an Alaska Peony Growers Association has been formed. The first Alaska peony conference was held in February.
Several publications and articles regarding peony growing in Alaska are available on line:
• "Next great crop in Alaska is a beauty", by Victoria Naegle. Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, June 5, 2008.
• An Introduction to Harvesting and Selling Alaska Cut Flower Peonies (PDF), by James D. Auer and Patricia S. Holloway. AFES Misc. Pub. 2008-03, April 2008.
• "Peonies, through an Alaskan window", by Julie, Human Flower Project, September 22, 2006.
• "Researchers study money-making flowers", by Rosie Milligan, Sun Star, September 12, 2006.
• Peonies for Field Cut Flower Production (PDF), by Patricia S. Holloway, Janice T. Hanscom, and Grant E.M. Matheke. AFES Research Progress Report No. 44, July 2005.
• Peonies for Field Cut Flower Production, Second Year Growth (PDF), by Patricia S. Holloway, Janice T. Hanscom, and Grant E.M. Matheke. AFES Research Progress Report No. 43, April 2004.
• Peony--A Future Crop for Alaska? (PDF), by Doreen Fitzgerald. AFES Misc. Pub. 2004-01.
• Peonies for Field-Cut Flower Production, First Year Growth (PDF), by Patricia S. Holloway, Janice T. Hanscom, and Grant E.M. Matheke. AFES Research Progress Report No. 41, October 2003.
• Production and Transportation Considerations in the Export of Peonies from Fairbanks, Alaska (PDF), by Marie A. Klingman. SNRAS Senior Thesis 2005-01, April 2002.
• Welcome to the World of Peonies (PDF), by Judith Wilmarth.
• "Growing Peonies in Alaska", by Judith Wilmarth. Alaska Master Gardeners.