Digitally Highlighted Sepia Photograph by J. McCombie.
Prized for their blowsy, glamorous blooms and glossy, deeply cut foliage, peonies are held in deep affection by many gardeners, despite their shortish flowering season and vulnerability to peony wilt in damp weather. It’s easy to see why. From the promise of early spring, when their red, mottled shoots push through bare earth and the handsome foliage unfurls from spherical red buds, to early summer, when the huge flowers burst open, peonies exert a fascination that few can resist. Peonia lactiflora ‘Shirley Temple’ (double peony) is later flowering than many peonies with large, pale pink, double flowers (5-7"), gently fading to buff-white, and mid green leaves. The centre of each beautiful, scented flower is full of small, loosely arranged ruffled petals. It will thrive in full sun or partial shade. Fill the bare ground around the peony before the leaves appear with spring bulbs to prolong the season of interest.
Paeonia (peony or paeony) is a genus of flowering plants, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae. They are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America. Boundaries between species are not clear and estimates of the number of species range from 25 to 40.
Most are herbaceous perennial plants 1.5 – 5 feet (0.5 – 1.5 metres) tall, but some resemble trees up to 5 – 10 feet (1.5 – 3 metres) tall. They have compound, deeply lobed leaves, and large, often fragrant flowers, ranging from red to white or yellow, in late spring and early summer.
The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil; Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.
The family name “Paeoniaceae” was first used by Friedrich K.L. Rudolphi in 1830, following a suggestion by Friedrich Gottlieb Bartling that same year. The family had been given other names a few years earlier. The composition of the family has varied, but it has always consisted of Paeonia and one or more genera that are now placed in Ranunculales. It has been widely believed that Paeonia is closest to Glaucidium, and this idea has been followed in some recent works. Molecular phylogenetic studies, however, have demonstrated conclusively that Glaucidium belongs in Ranunculaceae, but that Paeonia belongs in the unrelated order Saxifragales.