By F. C. Stern.
Attention! This publication is subject to copyright by the Royal Horticultural Society. www.rhs.org.uk
Journ Royal Horticultural Society vol. 56,pp. 71-77 (1931)
[Read Jnne 24. 1930; W. B. cranfield, Esq., F.L.S.. in the Chair.]
I have been asked to talk about Paeony species, and I intend to talk about them from a gardener's point of view. I am no botanist and therefore can only describe them as a gardener, and say how they grow in my own garden. For many years past I have raised all the Paeony species I could get hold of from seed, but I find the naming of them, especially some of the European ones, exceedingly difficult, and I also find that the botanists differ on the correct naming of some of them.
There are three monographs on the genus : the first by George Anderson in 1817 in the Transactions of the Linnean Society, the second by J. G. Baker in the Gardeners' Chronicle in 1884, and the third a classification of the genus by irwin lynch in the R.H.S. journal in 1890. There is also a good description of the Paeony species in the Book of the Paeony by Mrs. edward harding, published in 1917. Perhaps this discusssion will encourage the botanist to produce a scientific monograph on this genus which is up to date and easy for the amateur gardener to understand.
In the last thirty years, during the botanical explorations in China, several good garden species have been discovered and brought back. They are easy to grow and beautiful to look at. There are also new species that come from the Caucasus. I intend to talk about the species not by their affinity to each other, but by their geographical distribution.
They are all plants from the Northern Hemisphere. There is one species which grows in Western N. America, a large number that are indigenous to Europe, several from the Caucasus and Asia Minor, and the remainder from China and Eastern Asia. They are all hardy in the South of England, with the exception of one which comes from the Himalaya, Paeonia emodi. This plant exists in my garden but never flowers, and I think it scarcely worth considering as a garden plant.
Several of the species which come from the South of Europe are apt to start too early into growth when we have a warm winter like 1929-30. If we can stop them doing that they are perfectly hardy, and therefore I grow them, and find the plan successful, on the north or west side of the borders, partly in the shade of shrubs or trees. They all seem to like a good garden loam, and, to my joy, they all seem to like lime ; in fact, going through some of the dried specimens at Kew I noticed that nearly all the European species were found on calcareous soil. That great gardener, Mr. elwes, of Colesbome, started me growing the species many years ago, and suggested that they would grow very well in the calcareous soil of my garden.
I shall first describe the European species, then go through Asia Minor, the Caucasus, the Himalayas, China and Siberia, and finish up with California. The distribution of the different species is a study in itself.
For instance, P. corallina is found in Eastern France and at the foot of the Alps, and is also the only species indigenous to England and has been found wild on the cliffs of Steep Holme Island in the Bristol Channel. Its distribution is most interesting and well worth studying. It grows about 2 ½ feet high, has crimson flowers in May, and leaves glabrous, paler underneath. The name refers to the coral-red seeds.
P. anomala is found in Siberia and China and also in Northern Finland. It is mentioned in Flora Sibirica in 1747. This plant grows about 3 feet high, with fine delicate foliage, and has a magnificent deep red flower. It can be recognized by the particularly hairy seed pods.
There is a form of P. anomala called P. Smouthii which is more floriferous and with deeper red flowers, and foliage even more finely cut. P. Smouthii has several flowers on the stem and the true P. anomala only one. It is quite likely a hybrid. I have been unable to track it down as a species. It is suggested to be a cross, P. albiflora X P. tenuifolia (ex Van Houtte).
Both these plants flower about the middle of May and are first-class garden plants.
P. officinalis is well known by everyone as the commonest Paeony growing in gardens. It has been cultivated in European gardens for centuries and there are many varieties of it. It is quite unnecessary for me to describe it. I do not know what the true wild species looks like. The varieties flower late, about the first or second week in June, and grow about 3 feet high. It is very doubtful whether this is a species at all, and if it is, where it is found wild.
P. lobata is a very beautiful plant which is found in Portugal and flowers at the end of May, later than most of the others, and has flowers of a unique brilliant salmon colour. There seems to be no doubt that it is an independent species. It is very floriferous, the flowers with the petals concave standing well up above the intense and thick foliage. It grows easily in any garden soil or situation.
P. Broteri, which is found in Spain and Portugal, is very easily distinguishable from others by the very red stems and broad round leaf. It has a dwarf habit and crimson flowers, and is sometimes considered a variety of P. corallina.
P. peregrina.In the past many people when in doubt apparently called any species ' peregrina.' The true species is a very interesting plant. It is found in the Balkan Peninsula in Serbia, Macedonia, and Roumania. It seems to be a magnificent red Paeony standing 2 ½ feet high, with brilliant red flowers about 4 inches across with the petals concave. The leaves are long, lanceolate, and glabrous.
It has an interesting history. It was known in the sixteenth century to clusius, who, in an account of the flora of Pannonia published 1583, describes it as being grown in the gardens of certain noble Dames from seed sent from Constantinople. It was also grown in the famous garden of the Bishops of Eystedt in Bavaria in the seventeenth century.
I believe the well-known form ' Fire King,' which is said to have originated in the garden of Mr. prichard, is exactly the same thing, or a fine form of it.
It is one of the finest Paeony species and an excellent garden plant.
The doubt about this species is probably due to the wrong plant being figured in the Botanical Magazine in the early nineteenth century. The correct plant is figured in vol. 144 of the Botanical Magazine.
P. microcarpa is found in Spain. It is very attractive with its dark red flowers and narrow foliage, and is a fine garden plant.
P. coriacea is found in Spain and has lately been found in Morocco by Sir william lawrence. The flowers are crimson. I have only seedlings of it and have never seen it myself in flower. It is a native of North Africa and Spain.
P. sessiliflora is said to be found in Europe, but the origin is unknown. It flowers at the end of May, about 1 ½
feet high. It has a fine white flower and is quite distinct by its very green compact foliage. It is the only species with bright green foliage when it first comes up. It is pubescent on the back of the leaf. I have not been able to track down the origin of this plant, but it is so distinct, both in its way of growth and flowers, that it appears to be a species.
P. Bakeri is one of the most beautiful species. It grows about 3 feet high and flowers in the middle of May, and has flowers of a deep rose, 4-5 inches in diameter. The leaves are broad, light green and tapering. It bears one flower to the stem. It is sometimes referred to as P. pubens, but I have never been able to obtain P. pubens, and therefore have no knowledge whether this is correct. It certainly has the leaves and stem covered with hair. The calyx is in this species particularly small. I have been unable to trace the origin of this plant. It is mentioned by lynch and is said to come from the Orient.
P. tenuifolia is found in Transylvania and in the Crimea. It is a very distinct species, with very thin, fern-like leaves, and grows about a foot high. It is really very lovely with its cut leaves and dark red flowers. It was introduced to this country in 1765, and has been crossed with P. albiflora and with several garden varieties.
P. cretica is another beautiful species of Paeony. It grows about 1 foot high with fine cut leaves, and has a pure white flower of fine cup shape with golden stamens, the flowers standing up well about the plant. It flowers towards the end of May. I raised it from seed sent me by my friend, Mr. atchley of Athens, who tells me that he found it growing in the shade in deep ravines in Crete. It flowered with me for the first time this year.
P. Cambessedesii is one of the most beautiful of all Paeony species, and it is also one of the earliest to flower. It forms its buds by the middle of March and grows quickly, coming into flower towards the last week in April. The flowers are of a deep shade of true pink. The whole plant is delightful, with its deep grey-green leaves set off by red veins and stem. It is also most attractive in seed, with pink capsules and red-violet seed. It is easy to raise from seed. In my experience the plants raised from seed are hardier than imported plants.
It was introduced into cultivation in 1896 from the Island of Majorca by Miss geoghegan, of Glasnevin, Dublin. A parallel form is also found in Corsica, but differs in the seed vessels, and is called P. Corsica.
P. arietina has white flowers, grows about 2 ½ feet, and flowers in the middle of May. It is said at Kew to be the same as P. peregrina, but it seems to me, from a garden point of view, quite different in flower, with broader leaves and a different way of growth. It is found in Anatolia and the Balkans. The leaves are broad and light green. It has one flower on a stem and glabrous leaves. The specific name, signifying ram's horns, refers to the shape of the seed pods.
P. triternata comes from the Crimea and is rather a shy bloomer. It has light red foliage, which is very attractive when it first comes up. Later the leaves are long. tapering and deep green with red stems. The plant is easily recognizable by the red edge to the leaf. The flowers are rose-red and are produced at the end of May.
P. Mlokosewitschii.This Paeony with an unpronounceable name is, in my opinion, the finest Paeony species of the herbaceous sorts. It was named after a Russian botanist who found it in the central part of the Eastern Caucasus. I am told that his daughter gave her name of Julia to Primula Juliae. It grows about 2 ½ feet high and has beautiful yellow flowers in the first half of May. It has fine glaucous leaves with red veins and is very floriferous, the flowers standing well up above the broad foliage. It is one of the three yellow-flowered species from the Caucasus. It is certainly a finer plant than Wittmanniana in the colour of flowers ; and the flowers last longer than Wittmanniana, whose flowers in warm weather fall quickly. There is another yellow-flowered species in the Caucasus called P. macrophylla, but I have never seen it.
P. Mlokosewitschii can easily be distinguished from P. Wittmanniana in leaf or seed. The former has very hairy carpels and glabrous leaves, while P. Wittmanniana has glabrous carpels and leaves hairy beneath.
It easily comes from seed and also can be divided.
P. Wittmanniana is another very lovely species from the Caucasus and Northern Persia, which was introduced about 1842. It is very easy to grow and flowers early. It has light yellow flowers and grows a little higher than the previous one. It is also very decorative in seed. The worst of this plant is that the flowers go over very quickly, which is natural when one realizes it is a woodland plant.
There is a beautiful pink Paeony which appeared in the garden of Mr. burroughes of Stamford. It is said to be a hybrid of P. Wittmanniana. It is entirely different in both flower and leaf. It is magnificent, with a more deeply cut leaf, and grows about 2 feet high. The flower stands up well and is a true pink.
P. albiflora or P. sinensis comes from Siberia and Northern China and is one of the sources of the herbaceous garden Paeonies. The species is easy to recognize in the early stages, as it has very red foliage, with a metallic sheen, when it first comes out of the ground. It was first introduced into this country, I believe, in 1805, and there are any number of varieties of it. There is one called rubescens, which is one of the latest of Paeonies to flower and which comes up later than the type.
This species makes a spreading large plant and flowers in June. There are several flowers on the stem which grow well above the rather long, tapering, green leaves.
P. obovata comes from China and Manchuria and was introduced to England by Mr. E. H. wilson in 1900. collected in the Province of Hupeh. This is a most beautiful species and flowers later than most of them, coming into bloom the last days of May. There is a very lovely rose form and a very lovely white form. It has bold, large, green, broad leaves and grows about 3 feet high. The flowers, one on a stem, stand well above the leaves and open finely. The flowers are magnificent.
Allied to this is one of the finest Paeonies in existence, P. Willmoltiae, which was raised by Miss willmott from wilson's seed, and no doubt many of you saw it when it was shown by her in this Hall some years ago. It is said to be allied to P. obovata, but a finer form.
P. Veitchii was introduced from Western China, also by E. H. wilson, in 1904. It flowers much later than the other species, towards the middle of June. It grows about 40 inches high and is very floriferous. The flowers are magenta. It has more than one flower on a stem, and a habit, which is shared by P. Woodwardii, of coming up very late out of the ground and then growing very fast. P. Woodwardii is a very beautiful one, has pink flowers, and grows about 1 foot high. It has an interesting history, as it was originally found growing in tubs in a monastery garden in Jo-ni in Kansu on the Tibetan border, in 1912, at about 7,000 feet. It was found there by my friend, Mr. george fenwick owen. It was sent home also by farrer and purdom, and was named by Professor bayley balfour after a friend of mine, robert woodward of Arley Castle. Some people think that it is a form of Veitchii, but this is not so. It only grows 1 foot high compared to 3 feet of Veitchii, and it flowers a fortnight earlier, at the beginning of June. Its leaves are quite different and the appearance is quite different from Veitchii in cultivation. Its flowers stand well up above the foliage instead of among the foliage as the flowers of Veitchii.
P. emodi I have already mentioned. It grows in the Himalayan Mountains of Kashmir. It is said to have exquisite single white flowers, but I do not find it hardy in my garden and have never succeeded in flowering it.
P. Brownii is a wild plant of California and the only Paeony species found wild in the American Continent. It is a small growing plant of rather a dingy red, with curious hard foliage. The flowers are brown-red and not attractive. It is easy to raise from seed.
Now we pass to the tree or woody-stemmed species, taking first P. suffruticosa, or P. Moutan, which is the more usual name. Cultivated plants of this species have been known for over 1,500 years. It is first mentioned in Chinese literature in the year 500, but, curiously enough, it was never found wild until it was discovered by Mr. W. purdom in the Shensi Province of China in 1910. It is the parent of all the beautiful cultivated Japanese Paeonies that we grow in our gardens. The Japanese Paeony was first brought to England in 1787.
P. Delavayi is a very beautiful tree Paeony introduced from Western China by E. H. wilson in 1904. It has dark red flowers and is very floriferous, and flowers at the end of May. There are, in my opinion, a large number of different forms of this Paeony. The ordinary form grows about 3 feet 6 inches high. There is another variety, angustiloba, which grows over 6 feet high and seems to me to have bigger flowers. This form does not make runners, while the ordinary form does.
There is another variety which has white flowers, but it does not grow so high and makes runners. Its leaves are rather like the leaves of P. lutea, but smaller and greener. It would not surprise me if it were a different species.
fortune describes a Paeony very like P. Delavayi in one of his books.
P. lutea seems to me to be a form of P. Delavayi, with yellow flowers and bronze leaves, whitish at the back. It grows about 3 feet high and flowers later than Delavayi, usually about the middle of June. Messrs. Lemoine, of France, have produced some wonderful hybrids with this plant.
forrest considers there are many forms of these Paeonies stretching through China.
P. trollioides was collected by Mr. forrest under his Nos. 12565 and 13195. This species has yellow flowers and grows about 2 ½ feet high and makes runners. It flowers at the end of May. It has been named and described by Dr. staff. It was collected at 11,000 feet in Bei Ma Shan in China. It is a first-class garden plant and very easy to grow and perfectly hardy. It may be recognized by the erect way it carries its leaves.