Tree Peony (Paeonia sp.)
Tree Peony [PEE-oh-nee] plants are, in fact, woody, perennial shrubs. They produce huge, colorful flowers and interesting foliage that dies back in the winter, leaving bare stems until spring. The Japanese tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) and the less common Chinese (Paeonia lutea) or hybrid (Paeonia lemoinei) tree peonies, are all cold hardy, easy to care for and long-lived. They will grow in most regions of the United States where it gets chilly in the winter. Once difficult to find, they are now more available in many nurseries and by mailorder.
Size - Tree peonies typically grow to be 4 or 5 feet tall and spread on upright, gray-green shoots about as wide as they are tall. Those that grow in warmer climates may eventually reach 6 feet in height. Bearing their leaves at the branch ends, their habit is basically a round, slightly spreading, large shrub. The Chinese types of tree peonies tend to be bushier than their Japanese cousins, and they are likely to spread a bit more underground.
Flowers - Tree peony flowers bloom in the spring about 10 weeks after their leaves appear. Those of the Japanese type appear somewhat earlier than those of the Chinese type. The enormous saucer-shaped blossoms feature crinkly, tissue-paper type petals surrounding a ring of gold anthers and are often from 6 to 10 inches wide. They bloom individually near tips of plant stems over a period of 10 days or so. Each bloom lasts 5 to 7 days. Blossoms of Japanese tree peonies may be cream, white, purple, many shades of pink through red, to almost black-red. Those of the Chinese types are often buttercup-yellow, but hybrids have produced red, pink, or lavender flowers with deeper golden or coppery hues toward their centers. They tend to nod at the ends of the stems, and often are obscured by the foliage. There are single, semi-double or double flowered kinds of tree peonies available and many have a pleasant fragrance of pine, rose or citrus, depending on the color. Sometimes heavy, nodding blooms need to be individually staked.
Foliage - Tree peony foliage is handsome in its own right. Leaves are usually are reddish or purplish when they unfurl in the spring, turning gray-green for the season. Sometimes they redden in the fall just before they drop. Up to 8 or 10 inches wide, they are deeply cut into large pointed lobes.
Choosing Tree Peonies
Chinese Tree Peonies available in many independent garden centers
|Tree Peony Choices|
|Number One Scholar’s Red||Magenta-red flowers bloom in rose to thousand petal flower shape. Up-facing, 6-8” flowers often with silvery frosting and have a dense fragrance.|
|Cinnabar Ramparts||Crinkled, silken, mid-pink petals with a darker pink flairs at the base. Frosted edges on 7” flowers facing both upward and to the side. Rangrance ranges from dense to delicate.|
|Zhao’s Pink||Flowers face upwards and are very large. Thousand petal, 8-10” light pink purple blooms with delicate fragrance.|
|Necklace with Precious Pearls||May bloom all megenta red or all pink; sometimes with red splotches all on the same plant. Delicately scented. 7” up-facing flowers.|
|Phoenix White||Flowers face upwards, sloating like silk on top of leaves. 8” with a dense fgragrance. Plants grow rapidly and are very erect.|
|Luoyang Red||Magenta-red flowers are upward facing. 8-10 inches, with numerous lightly fragrant blooms.|