tree peony season 2007 - commentary

Jim McKenney
Mon, 21 May 2007 07:47:21 PDT
Jim Waddick wrote: 
	"Oddly their are no defined cultivar groups for tree peonies 
in America, probably because of their rarity in general. China 
recognizes at least 4 and theres' at least a few more clear divisions.

	All of your "yellow- flowered sorts" are members of a group 
generally known as the "American hybrids" or "Lutea Hybrids". All are 
based on the work of the two American hybridizers, Prof. A.P. 
Saunders and N Daphnis and originate from crossing primarily Japanese 
suffruticosa types with the species P. lutea or selections. The 
single most common is 'High Noon', but Saunders introduced almost 80 
(not all of which are "just' yellow) and Daphnis another 40 or so."

I have to take exception to what is written above.

In particular, the statement that my yellow-flowered sorts are derived from
the work of A.P. Saunders or N. Daphnis, should be addressed. 

In fact, the yellow-flowered tree peony shown in my image (all of the yellow
flowers were cut from one plant of 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu') is not the
result of the work of either Saunders or Daphnis: it is the result of the
work of the French pioneer hybridizer Professor Louis Henry who was the
first in the West (and as far as is known, the first ever) to deliberately
hybridize suffruticosa tree peonies with Paeonia lutea. This work was
evidently done at the end of the nineteenth century, about thirty years
before the first Saunders yellow-flowered hybrid was introduced. 

Thus the French get the credit for developing the first yellow-flowered
hybrid tree peonies. The French however seem to have raised comparatively
few yellow-flowered hybrids before abandoning work in that direction. 

The Saunders hybrids are however not simply a continuation of the French
work. Saunders had a different esthetic sense, and the flowers of his
hybrids do not resemble those of the earlier French hybrids. In general,
they tend to have relatively fewer petals and thus avoid the one great fault
of the early French hybrids: 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu', for instance,
produces flowers the size of a grapefruit packed with petals. These heavy
flowers hang down and are thus hidden by the foliage of the plant. They are
useless for garden decoration unless the flowers are individually propped
up. Although useless for garden decoration unless supported, the flowers are
magnificent as cut flowers. 

The flowers of the Saunders hybrids on the other hand tend to be
self-supporting, and a large plant of one of these in full bloom is a
handsome sight in the garden. In my group picture there is also one of the
dark red nearly single Saunders hybrid tree peonies: 'Thunderbolt'. There
are several of these hybrids, all resembling Paeonia delavayi but with
larger flowers.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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