Alaska - a peony paradise?
In the Last Frontier. peonies mature at a time that no others in the world are blooming.
Once upon a time a scientist in Fairbanks, Alaska, wondered out loud about an idea that seemed fantastical at the time.Skip to next paragraph
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Why not grow flowers in Alaska, put them on jet planes -- the state is one of the world's biggest air cargo hubs, after all -- and sell them around the world?
Alaska plus flowers equals lucrative business opportunity?
Not a natural association, perhaps. But as the result of her random query at a gardening conference, scientist Pat Holloway discovered a hot lead about Alaska's untapped, economic advantage in the global flower trade.
The advantage, in a word: peonies.
Chances are you've seen peonies in a bridal bouquet, hotel floral arrangement, or neighborhood garden. With huge, fluffy, fragrant blossoms in shades of pink, red, and white, they look like roses on steroids. Florists commonly sell them for $5 per stem.
A Lower 48 garden expert told Ms. Holloway, a University of Alaska Fairbanks horticulturist, that Alaska had a potential mother lode with its late-blooming peonies. His tip unleashed a wild chain of events that so far has involved:
- Trips by Alaskans to learn the peony trade at farms in exotic locales, including Tasmania and New Zealand. Some of those growers plan to visit Alaska this summer to assist Railbelt peony growers with their harvests.
- Pulse-racing conversations between Alaskans and anxious European flower brokers demanding thousands of peonies -- right now!
- The creation of a loose-knit organization of pioneering Alaska peony farmers ranging from Fairbanks to Homer.
Why all the fuss over peonies? Here's the deal: Apparently nowhere else but Alaska are farmers growing vibrant crops of peonies that bloom at the end of the summer. That's "late" compared to the rest of the world, where peonies -- a cool-season crop -- typically flower in the spring and early summer.
Think summer weddings.
Shipping peonies out of Anchorage would be a cinch because of its air cargo industry, says Ms. Correll, who specializes in the reverse: importing flowers to Alaska.
Holloway learned about Alaska's peony advantage in 1998. In 2000, she received $10,000 -- a portion of a Sen. Ted Stevens earmark for crop research -- and used the money to pay for a few each of 30 peony varieties and student research.