Additional notes (click to expand)
The Chinese call it the “Queen of Flowers” and admire it as a potted plant for seasonal indoor decoration. Being big and showy does not necessarily equate with beauty. It earns its reverence by its innate pride and dignity. The most important thing is its strength of character. The Chinese believe that the plant is so proud and unyielding that it refuses to bloom when all other flowers are in full blossom. Introduced to the UK around 1794 by Sir Joseph Banks, the “Asian Tree Peony” was one of Bank’s most treasured acquisitions due to its delicate, satin-paper blooms. At the turn of the twentieth century, peonies were an Edwardian obsession. They are grown for their large, brightly coloured, sometimes fragrant, showy flowers and bold, dissected leaves. They are ideal for a mixed herbaceous or shrub border. If ingested, all parts can cause mild stomach upset.
The glorious peony, commemorates Paeon, physician to the gods of ancient Greece, who enjoyed the best private practice of the era. Homer’s Iliad v. 401 and 899 (c. 800 BC) provides further details (Murray, 1924). The name Paeon came to be associated as being Apollo, Greek god of healing, poetry, the sun and much else, and father of Aesculapius/Asclepias. Hesiod, the greatest Greek author after Homer, about a century later, clearly regarded them as separate deities, viz: If neither Phoebus Apollo does save us from death, nor Paean who knows remedies for everything. The Mycenaean Greeks of the late Bronze Age (1600–1100 BC) worshipped a god of healing called Paiawon, ‘a divinity with a formidable knowledge of herbs and drugs ...’ (Graf, 2009), and Apollo was not known. Paiawon’s cult disappeared after the collapse of the Mycenaean world. The fusion of Paiawon/Paeon and Apollo occurred much later as both being names for the god of healing. Theophrastus (c. 300 BC), repeated by Pliny (AD 79), wrote that if a woodpecker saw one collecting peony seed during the day, it would peck out one’s eyes, and (like mandrake) the roots had to be pulled up at night by tying them to the tail of a dog, with the added warning that one’s ‘fundament might fall out’ (anal prolapse) if one cut the roots with a knife. Theophrastus, I am glad to say, thought this ‘far-fetched’, as did Pliny, viz: ‘all this, however, I take to be so much fiction, most frivolously invented to puff up their supposed marvellous properties’.
Oakeley, Dr. Henry. (2012). Doctors in the Medicinal Garden. Plants named after physicians. Royal College of Physicians. link
An upright, sparsely branched, deciduous shrub (tree peony) with dark green leaves, blue-green beneath, each with elliptic leaflets, deeply cut into pointed lobes. In late spring and early summer, the plant bears large, semi-double, bowl-shaped, white flowers. Numerous, golden yellow anthers surround the bright pink stigma and filaments in the centre, creating an eye catching halo effect. Grows 1.5m high and wide.
Brickell, C. (2003). A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Dorling Kindersley. p.763
Full hardy to frost hardy, young foliage and flower buds may be damaged by late spring frosts. Grow in deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Shelter tree peonies from cold, drying winds. Large-flowered cultivars may need support. To propagate, sow seed in containers outdoors in autumn or early winter, make take 2 to 3 years to germinate). Divide herbaceous peonies in autumn or in early spring, or take rooting cuttings in winter. Take semi-ripe cuttings of tree peonies in summer, or graft in winter. Susceptible to viruses, eelworms, and swift moth larvae. Honey fungus may cause rapid death. Peony grey mould blight (peony wilt) may destroy shoots and buds.
Brickell, C. (2003). A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Dorling Kindersley. p.760
Peonies are long-lived plants but often resent disturbance. The secret of growing them well is not to plant the tubers too deeply. The top of the crown should be no more than 5cm (2 inches) below the soil surface. If they are too deep they produce leaf and no flower.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the root and root bark of Paeonia suffruticosa is thought to be analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antispasmodic, emmenagogue, sedative, styptic and a tonic. An extract of the plant has antibacterial activity. The Chinese use it to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus, Bacillus dysenteriae, Typhoid bacillus, Paratyphoid bacillus, Proteus, Pseudomonas, E. coli, Haemophilus pertussis and Streptococcus. The plant is used internally in the treatment of fevers, boils, menstrual disorders, nosebleeds, ulcers, irritability and gastro-intestinal infections. This remedy should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The herb acts as a synergist when used with liquorice (Glycyrrhiza spp). A tea made from the dried crushed petals of various peony species has been used as a cough remedy, and as a treatment for haemorrhoids and varicose veins.
Plants for a Future (2016) at www.plantsforafuture.org.uk http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Paeonia+suffruticosa link
Paeonia- the classical Greek name said to commemorate Paeon, physician of the gods and reputed discoverer of medicinal properties… We still speak of a paeon or song of praise, originally a hymn to Apollo.
Stearn, W.T. (1996). Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners. Cassell. p.229
suffruticosa- somewhat shrubby.
Stearn, W.T. (1996). Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners. Cassell. p.288
Paeonia suffruticosa Andrews 'Bai Yu' Distribution: China. The peony commemorates Paeon physician to the Gods of ancient Greece (Homer’s Iliad v. 401 and 899, circa 800 BC). Paeon, came to be associated as being Apollo, Greek god of healing, poetry, the sun and much else, and father of Aesculapius/Asclepias. Paeonia suffruticosa was introduced to horticulture by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). A root extract in 25% alcohol has recently been licensed for use for the relief of menopausal hot flushing as an across-the-counter medication in Britain, despite inhibiting clotting mechanisms and causing uterine contractions; lack of toxicity, genotoxicity or genotoxicity trials, and the absence of proof that it works (UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)).
Oakeley, Dr. Henry F. (2013). Wellcome Library notes. link
In China, the fresh petals are frequently used to make thick soup or garnish other specialty dishes. The petals are used to distill wine. It’s known for its mellow taste.
Paeonia suffruticosa 'Bai Yu'Family: PAEONIACEAE
Cultivar: 'Bai Yu'
Distribution summary: Garden origin
Habitat: lowland to mountain forests, forest margins, savannah woodland, open grassland, shady river banks
Garden status: Currently grown
Garden location: Far East (L)
Flowering months: April
Reason for growing: Commemorative, medicinal, other use