Species Peonies

Depending on which botanist you ask, the number of peony species (i.e. plants belonging to the genus Paeonia) varies between 35 and 50. Most of these species grow wild in Asia, southern Europe, or western North America. Very few of them are cultivated and sold commercially.

Most commercial peonies are derived from the Paeonia lactiflora; there are apparently over 3,000 cultivated varieties of this peony. However, this is not the only species which is available from nurseries and garden centres. If you are looking for something rare and unusual, a few nurseries also offer peonies belonging to other species. The following is a list of the "species peonies" which are most commonly offered for sale.

Please note, each of the following entries has a photo, the commonly-used name of the species, and a list of pertinent information, as follows:

The entry concludes with some more detailed information about the peony (for example, place of origin, foliage descriptions, and plant uses). The entries are in alphabetical order. Finally, for explanations of the botanical terms used, please see the Glossary provided.

Photo of peony Mlokosewitchii Mlokosewitschii
Paeonia mlokosewitchii; note: according to some, this is a subspecies of Paeonia daurica, and, thus, should be called: Paeonia daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii; single, yellow, very early, approx. 24 - 26" (60 - 65 cm) tall, fragrant
Also known as "Molly the Witch"; discovered in the eastern central Caucasus area by a (Polish or Russian) forester named Mlokosiewicz or Mlokosewitsch around 1897; true lemon yellow blossoms, which form a bowl approx. 4 - 5" (10 - 12 cm) in diameter, with a centre of golden-orange stamens and purple stigmas; sweet scent; foliage is either a matte gray-green or bronze colour; stems are often reddish wine colour; seeds are an ornamental red and black
(Photo courtesy of Elysium Garden Nursery)
Photo of peony Mollis Mollis
Paeonia mollis; note: according to some, this is a cultivar of Paeonia officinalis, thus, should be called Paeonia officinalis Mollis; single, pink, very early, approx. 12 - 30" (30 - 75 cm) tall; no fragrance
This species apparently originated in Central Asia; blossoms are cup-shaped, magenta pink, with a centre of pale yellow stamens; flowers appear to sit down among the leaves; foliage is dark, bluish-green; bush forms a low, wide clump; strong stems — no staking needed; very hardy; there is also a white variety
(Photo courtesy of Plantentuin Esveld, Holland)
Photo of peony Officinalis Rubra Plena Officinalis
Paeonia officinalis; double, red (though pink & white versions also exist), very early, approx. 24 - 28" (60 - 70 cm) tall, fragrant
Comes in several colours: Rubra Plena is crimson red, Rosa Plena is pink, and Alba Plena is white; although I've included this in the "species" section, this peony has actually been under cultivation for centuries (for its medicinal properties, especially in old monasteries); it's also known as "The Graveyard Peony" or the "Memorial Day Peony", as it has often been planted in graveyards, and, in the United States, will usually flower on or about Memorial Day (end of May); fully double blossoms, with satiny, ruffled petals, can grow up to 4" (10 cm) in diameter; very vigorous, reliable plant; no sidebuds; dark green foliage; strong stems; good cut flower
(Photo [Rubra Plena variety] courtesy of peonygarden.com)
Photo of peony Peregrina Peregrina
Paeonia peregrina; single, red, early midseason, approx. 20 - 32" (50 - 80 cm) tall
Vibrant scarlet red, goblet-shaped blossom, surrounding a centre of golden stamens, with some red or pink filaments; robust, hardy plant — can propagate itself by the roots; beautiful, glossy, deep green foliage; may start dying off in midsummer, if it comes under water stress — shelter from sun & wind, along with evenly moist soil will delay this; good for perennial border, and as a cut flower
(Photo courtesy of Hollingsworth Peony Nursery)
Photo of peony Tenuifolia Tenuifolia
Paeonia tenuifolia; usually single, although double varieties occur, red, very early, approx. 12 - 24" (30 - 60 cm) tall
Also known as the Fern Leaf Peony; vivid, cup-shaped, dark red blossoms; feathery, finely-divided foliage (almost like that of a cosmos); very hardy, compact bush — prefers very well-drained soil and cold winters; goes dormant in mid-summer, especially if weather is hot and humid; do not over-water once dormancy begins; makes an excellent rock garden plant
(Photo courtesy of peonygarden.com)
Photo of peony Veitchii Veitchii
Paeonia veitchii; note: according to some, should be considered a subpecies of Paeonia anomala, i.e. should be called Paeonia anomala supbsp. veitchii; single, lavender pink, very early, approx. 20" (50 cm) tall, floriferous
Discovered in Szechuan province (China) by E. H. Wilson in 1907, when he was collecting for Veitch; flower is light magenta or lavender pink, with a centre of yellow anthers & pink filaments; blossom is about 3" (8 cm) in diameter; very hardy, rounded bush; very attractive, finely-cut foliage (but not quite as feathery as P. tenuifolia); leaves provide autumn colour
(Photo courtesy of Plantentuin Esveld, Holland)

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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 3, 2008