Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Мать Россия

Paeonia tenuifolia
Mother Russia, if you have problem with the Cyrillic above. She is often conceived as something along the lines of the monumental  «Родина-мать зовёт!» - "The Motherland Calls!", the Soviet Realistic sculpture at Volgagrad, which I admit I rather admire (blush). But may I suggest a more appropriate symbol may be this most ethereal and evocative of peonies...or click on the video below,

Or how about Stipa ucrainica (a video made in the Rock Alpine Garden of Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago) which may be even more appropriate...but I digress.

The real impetus for this blog post is this book. I have been plodding, or I should say, browsing through this contemporary Anthropological/Linguistic/Archeological/Historical classic by David Anthony: an astonishing tour-de-force filled with exhaustive data compiled through a suite of sciences that traces the parameters of the prehistoric Indo-European people and language in time and space. There was a pretty precise historical moment and spot (I shall not reveal when or where, however) when a rag tag tribe of steppe wanderers tamed the horse, invented the wheel and wagon and proceeded to explode their population astronomically, and expand their homeland from a few hundred miles of the Ukraine and neighboring Russia to much of Eurasia--all within a matter of centuries. What a story!

Fernleaf peony is almost more lovely in bud than in flagrant bloom
I was astonished to learn that horses that were the predominant ungulate prey of those ancestral Indo-Europeans. I don't think horses were terribly fond of eating peonies for fodder--which may explain while these are still relatively common on the pastures around the Caucasus where they occur. Of course, this is just one of hundreds of spectacular wildflowers that were trod upon and enjoyed by these ancestors of nearly three billion contemporary human beings. Is it perhaps not an accident that this exquisite gem that accompanied their wanderings strikes us as now as iconic?

Double flowered fernleaf peony and Paeonia ostii in Plantasia DBG
I have been fantasizing about these distant ancestors of half of humanity--the original Russians, on the vast Eastern European prairies so similar to our Midwest and Great Plains visually and ecologically. How ironic that our American steppes were settled and colonized (in large part) by Volga Germans who came from much the same climate in Eurasia. These brought with them from Russia the durum wheat which is the mainstay of our "Breadbasket" and many of the same weeds and even wildflowers (like this peony, an old passalong plant among them) from their ancestral homeland--a highly significant waypoint for our species.

Yes..half the world are Russians and don't even know it! Viva Мать Россия! The land of fernleaf peonies and so many of my favorite authors, painters and composers...


  1. I have a fern leaf peonie that I dug in a neighbors yard with permission. Planted it at my house and then moved dug it up again and planted on some property where I was going to build a new home. Built the home and dug the peonie again and put in my back yard. Beautiful flowers in mid May. Collect seed and planted in late winter. The last time I saw them they were germinating well. Haven't seen them in a month or so.

  2. I'm impressed that you've moved it so many times successfully: I find that timing helps (moving in October is usually best for peonies)although the fernleaf seems to be more forgiving. The flower on the single only lasts a few days--but life itself is fleeting (as the Japanese remind us with the Cherry Blossom festival)and some flowers are all the more precious for being brief!


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