provisional, not to be published!!

From: <>To: <>

Sent: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 12:35 AM

Subject: peonies again


Dear Paige,

Think I managed to copy the pictures this time.

Please confirm you have now received the pictures as well.

best wishes





Protecting Georgian Peonies Kathryn Rae

I am an environmental expert not a botanist, a plant lover especially of peonies. The exquisite Chinese and Japanese paintings, the French still life of flowers all show the exotic beauty of this flower. Working in Georgia, I was given a rare opportunity to visit the four hundred year old, once royal botanical gardens in Tbilisi. Hidden in the next valley over, from the

city, you leave the brown pollution of Rustaveli and enter a hidden valley complete with waterfall and rushing mountain spring.

It was late spring the air already warm and the terraced gardens of the Institute of Botany field office were a riot of flowering Georgian peonies. It was an amazing site. On this first of what was to be many visits, I met three remarkable Georgian women botanists who are trying single-handedly with almost no resources except their energy and dedication to save and protect the Georgian and Caucasian endemic species of peonies. They are senior staff of N. Ketskhoveli Institute of Botany, which was established in 1933 in partnership with

the existing Georgian botanical gardens which were in turn part of the Academy of Sciences.

Before I talk about the project let me place Georgia for those readers whose geography is a little rusty. Its neighbours in the south are Armenia and Turkey, Azerbaijan in the East, the north Russia and west the Black Sea coastline. Geographically the Republic of Georgia is situated where Europe meets Asia. The northern Caucasus mountains form an extremely high over 5,500 metre natural barrier in the north, the Iori Plateau rises in the east of the country and then meets the Alazani Valley the natural watershed in the east to the plains of Azerbaijan. The lesser Caucasus mountains form a natural border with Armenia. However the whole climate is warmed from the west, the Black Sea and the humid western lowlands of Kolkheti Plain. Many mountain peaks are over 5,000 metres and together with a system of parallel plateaus and plains between these greater and lesser Caucasus mountain systems create a wide variety of topographic and climatic zones. The flora in the 69,700 square kilometers of the territory of Georgia is exceptionally rich and diverse and represents both European and Asian plant species.

The vast majority of medicinal plants in Georgia are collected from the wild which places great stress on wild plant populations and their survival.

Additional problems facing Georgian flora today are deforestation, poor wetland drainage, serious soil, air and water pollution. Today the peony plant and seed are over-collected in the wild in Georgia. Not just the seeds, often the entire plant is torn up. The payments for the seeds and plants are small but sometimes it is the only income for the people in the mountain



real money is made by the Turkish businessmen who sell it for huge

profits for

use in herbal and traditional medicines.

These three botanists are working very hard to implement a three


project to save endemic peonies from over collection in the wild in

Georgia. The

main aim of the project is to protect these endangered species. For


to be

successful, the local villagers must become truly involved; these


it is hoped will become sustainable long term and hopefully become a


for similar plant projects.

Aims of the project:-

1 Identify the target species, the peony plants natural habitats in


using herbarium specimens and field work data.

2 Prepare an up-to-date map showing natural habitat, range and


of all species of peony in Georgia and the Caucasus region.

3 Obtain IUCN categorization of all target species of peony.

4 Evaluate the present condition of the natural populations of



species and define the transformation as well as current


resulting from the anthropogenic effect on the habitats of the




5 Collect seeds of the target species and prepare herbarium


6 Formation of a seed bank at the Institute of Botany of the


Academy of Sciences, plant conservation department.

7 Using collected and preserved seeds and cuttings start a

propagation of

target species in situ and on the plots prepared by the villagers



selected project villages.

8 Select botanists will work with and train villagers over three

years on

how to grow from peony plants from seed and cuttings.

9 Preparation of educational materials by the Institute, to show


of protecting the peonies and how by growing them in plots the



earn more money and establish long term a small business.

The seeds from these plants could then be sold with the proper


license. This would hopefully in time reduce the present


of peony

plants and seeds from the wild in the Georgian Caucasus; provide a


source of income to the villagers; give the villagers training in


skills and establish a sustainable low cost business for them.

Peonia species endemic to Georgia and the Caucasus.

Twelve species grow in the Caucasus, ten in Georgia, seven endemic




Using the division of genus developed by Dekandol in 1824 . He



sections within this genus and it is the Section Paeon with



from the mountainous countries of Eurasia, which is relevant for



the Caucasus.

Paeoniaceae Rudolphi

Using the sections as defined in the Kemularia-Natadze (1961)

1 P. macrophylla

A large plant growing to a height of 150cm. Flower is large with


petals back-ovate from yellow to white in colour; stamens are



purple red; stigma is violet or pale red and slightly bent down.

Seed is round, coarse meshed and shrunken.

Habitat. Adjara slope from the river Chaqvi 800-1,000 ms above sea



the upper to the sub alpine forest belt in the timbered forests and


with reach mellow as well as limestone soils. Endemic to Georgia

2 P. steveniana

A large plant growing to a height of more than 100 cms. Crown petals


yellow; stamens are yellow with the same colour fibres; stigma is

reddish-violet. Seed blue to black in colour. Habitat. Between


and Akhaltsikhe

around the Atskuri forest area, in the upper forest belt, forest

outskirts and

shrubberies. Endemic to Georgia.

3 P. wittmanniana

Plant grows to a height of 80 to 100cm. Flowers are loose with crown


from yellowish to white in coloration. Stigma purple red. Seeds



Recorded in the agricultural society garden, Chiswick, London,


Kingdom according to live specimens raised from plant rootlet

gathered in


by Wittmann. Plant grows in mid mountain belt, forest outskirts in


of Georgia and Abhazia. Endemic to Georgia, Abhazia.

4 P. mlokosewitschii

Plant grows to a height of 50 to 100 cm. Flowers not loose, the



are yellow; stamens and fibres are yellow as well and the stigma is


and sometimes yellowish, almost symmetrical. Seed round blue to

black in


coarse meshed, shrunken.

Recorded in live plants collection of the Tbilisi Botanical Gardens

according to plants raised from material sent by Mlokosewitsch from


Plant grows from mid to upper mountainous belt in forests on stony


Endemic to Georgia.

5 P. ruprechtiana

Plant grows to a height of 50 to 100 cm with its branched thick


Leaves are leathery and glossy green. Flower is widely loose and


in colour. Stamens are yellow with the fibres are red; stigma is red


wide bottom and narrow tip curled one-sidedly.

Plant grows in the forests of mid mountainous belt as well as the


Endemic to Georgia.

6 P. caucasica Schipcz.

Plant grows to a height of 50 to 100cm. Flower is widely loose and


red in colour. Stamen husks are yellow and its fibres are purple.



asymmetric, purple or light red. Ripe seed is coarse meshed and



is described in the Flora of the USSR as from western Georgia.



in the mid and upper mountainous belts, hornbeam and oak forests, and


edges. Endemic to Caucasus.

7 P. lagodechiana

Plant grows to a height of 50 to 100cms. Flowers are widely loose



in colour. Stamens are ash-grey with purple fibres; node is



red almost symmetrical.

Specimen seeds preserved in the Tbilisi Botanical Gardens seed


Plant grows in the forests and mid mountainous belts.

Endemic to Caucasus.

The problem facing the future of this project is not people or


but funding. The Institute like all former government funded

bodies has

suffered funding cuts under the new government and must rely now on

funding from

outside sources to continue their valuable work. The costs are not


the equipment, the greenhouse, to be made from re-cycled materials

at the

Institute field grounds; gardening tools for the villagers, to start



year project. There will also be money required for the trainers and


preparation of the educational materials.

Currently, I am actively fund raising and have obtained some initial


so the first survey work can be done; and then the villages can be

identified and a project proposal will be able to be prepared by the

Institute. In

November I received a collection of Georgian peony seeds from the

Institute and

have brought them with all the relevant official paperwork to the


Kingdom. If anyone would like to make a donation however small to


project, I

would be happy to send them some seeds, as a thank you.

Dr Kathryn Rae

33 Samels Court,

South Black Lion Lane,


W6 9TL