The section Mouton of the Genus Paeonia includes the plants commonly known as tree paeonies. Often sold as pot plants during the late winter and early spring, they are as much treasured for their beautiful dissect leaf forms, as for their mostly opulent blossoms. Many possess an intensive perfume, which may not suit every man's (or woman's) tastes, being a complex mixture of exotic notes that can overpower in close quarters! The species are all natives to eastern Asia, mainly China, where the first cultivars were developed. The Japanese started much later developing their own cultivars and the Europeans started working with both groups even later, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Chinese cultivars often have hanging blossoms, a quality probably inherited from the P. delavayi species complex. Most form large shrub-like plants of perennial stems reaching 3M (10ft) in height, emerging from a slightly spreading crown. In comparison, the Japanese cultivars tend to be more compact and rarely exceed 2M (6.5ft) in height.
Many cultivars possess multiple names, due to the translation from their mostly Asian originals into European languages. These names have been floridly translated into amusing epiphets, such as 'Green Dragon Lying On A Chinese Inkstone' (Qing Long Wo Mo Chi). Which is the greater tongue twister is debatable! Interestingly, many of the European cultivars have since been given an Asian name (Japanese in most cases), making the original 'true' name less obvious. An example being Prof. Louis Henry's famous P. lutea hybrid of 1919, 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu', which also circulates under the Japanese name of 'Kinkaku'.
Hakuo-jisi , translated name King Of White Lion, a popular white Japanese cultivar with extraordinarily beautiful buds, in my opinion. They are flushed with green and resemble tulips as they start to open. The petals are large and spatulate, with generally rounded edges, which makes it distinctive from Renkau, which is slightly serrated. There are pale raspberry flares at the petal bases. The foliage turns bright red in most autumns. Ht. 1.3M (4ft) Photos: Jamie Vande
High Noon , a beautiful American hybrid from A.P.Saunders, released in 1952. One of the few clear yellows, that also reblooms in the late summer. A strong grower, it will reach about 1.5M (5ft), given a good position. Note the red flares radiating from the base of the sheath. Flowers only about 15 cm (5"), often appearing in threes, with impact in the garden. Takes well to pruning. Photo: Jamie Vande
Kamada Fuji , translated name Wisteria At Kamada, a medium-sized Japanese cultivar forming a dense shrub with dissected, deep blue-green foliage. The 18 cm (7") flowers are intensely coloured magenta purple. Robust grower with shorter habit, rarely exceeding 1M (3ft) Photo: Jamie Vande
Renkaku , translated name Flight Of Cranes, a huge, glistening, white semi-double cultivar coming from Japan. Commonly available and a reliable bloomer with deeply cut foliage. Typical height 1M (3ft). Flowers reach 25cm(10"). Photo: Jamie Vande
Rimpo , translated name Bird Of Rimpo, an extremly doubled, medium size blossom of deepest red. Short growing, compact shrub, not yet 1M (3ft) after 5 years in the garden. Beautiful foliage. Photo: Jamie Vande
Shimane Chojuraku , This wonderful lavender-pink has petals that fade toward the outer edges. The carpels are green surrounded by a magenta-purple sheath which is in turn crowned with golden anthers. And the flower is enormous, often reaching 25 cm (10"). Robust, yet compact, it reaches about 1.5M (4ft). Photo: Jamie Vande
Souvenir de Maxime Cornu , translated name Kinkaku (P. lutea x 'La Ville de St.Denis') Resembling the Chinese cultivars in that it's huge, flame-coloured blossoms hang among the foliage, this extremely popular cultivar was named in jest for the French horticulturist Mons. Maxime Cornu as he openly stated P. lutea would never become a successful garden plant! This blossom has an intensive and exotic perfume. They are often carried in threes on the stem, a quality inherited from P. lutea. Photo: Jamie Vande
Unknown tree peony - photo taken April 2007 by Jay Yourch.