Peony Types and Cultivars

red peony flower with yellow center
Semi-double herbaceous peony

Peonies are popular garden perennials.  While they bloom for a short time in spring, they are revered by many gardeners for their fragrant and beautiful flowers and longevity in the landscape.  There are several species of peonies that perform well in Iowa and across the Midwest.

Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous peonies (Paeonia latiflora hybrids) are the staple peony in the garden. Herbaceous peonies typically die back to the ground every winter. Flower colors include white, pink, peach, red/burgundy, and lavender. The common herbaceous peony is also available with different flower forms: single, semi-double, double, Japanese/Anemone, and bomb.  The different flower forms are based on the number of flower petals and the absence of pollen. The flowers are often so large that they flop to the ground from their sheer weight unless supports are used.  Herbaceous peonies are often 2 to 3 feet tall.  A few of the many popular cultivars are listed in the table below.

Cultivar

Flower Color

Flower form

Bowl of Beauty

Bright pink with white center

Japanese/Anemone

Coral Charm

Coral pink

Semi-double

Festiva Maxima

White with red flecks

Double

Kansas

Carmine red

Double

Karl Rosenfield

Dark Red

Double

Miss America

White

Semi-double

Pink Hawaiian

Peachy pink

Semi-double

Raspberry Sundae

Lavender-pink with cream/pink center

Bomb

Sarah Bernhardt

Pastel pink

Double

Shirley Temple

White

Double

fern leaf peony flower
Fernleaf Peony

 

Fern-leaf peonies 

Fern-leaf peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia) are also herbaceous peonies, but they are noted for the fine, dissected

foliage. Flowers are single or double and often only available in a dark red/burgundy color. This delicate foliage texture contrasts nicely with the bold blossoms. Fern-leaf peonies are typically the first peonies to flower.  Fern-leaf peonies are often the smallest peony types, rarely reaching more than 2 feet tall. 

Tree peonies

Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are woody shrubs (not trees) in the home landscape.  Unlike the other peony types, they produce woody stems that survive above the ground over the winter. Tree peonies reach about 3 to 5 feet in height in the Midwest. Tree peony flowers are available in the widest range of colors, including white, pink, red, lavender, yellow, peach, and green. Flowers of tree peonies are also very large, often reaching 6 to 9 inches in diameter. Most tree peonies have semi-double to double flowers, but the flowers don’t flop like herbaceous peonies since the stems offer more support.  Tree peonies typically bloom before the common herbaceous peony.  Below are a few popular tree peonies sold online or at garden centers in spring.

red peony flower
Tree peony flower

Cultivar

Flower Color

Asuka

Pink

Black Pirate

Dark burgundy

Companion of Serenity

Pale pink

Gessekai

White, single

Hana Kisoi (Floral Rivalry)

Pink

High Noon

Yellow

Impumon

Bright red

Kamata Fuji

Lavender-pink

Pluto

Deep red purple

yellow peony flower
Bartzella is a yellow itoh peony

Hybrid Peonies

Hybrids exist between tree peonies and the common herbaceous peonies. These hybrids are often called Intersectional hybrids or Itoh peonies (after Japanese hybridizer Toichi Itoh). Itoh peonies often die back to the ground each winter like herbaceous peonies. In the spring, the tree-peony-like foliage is followed by large, colorful flowers.  The flowers and flower colors closely resemble tree peonies.  These peonies start blooming as the common herbaceous peonies are starting to fade.  Below are a few of the popular Itoh peonies available on the market.

Cultivar

Flower Color

Bartzella

Yellow with red flare in the center; double

Cora Louise

White with dark lavender flare in the center; semi-double

First Arrival

Lavender-pink; semi-double

Keiko (Adored)

Lavender-pink; double

Kopper Kettle

Copper-pink; semi-double

Luxuriant

Pale pink with dark pink flare in the center

Misaka (Beautiful Blossom)

Orange-peach fading to yellowish; also sold as ‘Smith Opus 1’

Scarlet Heaven

Scarlet red; semi-double

Spring is often the best time to plant peonies.  They are readily available at local garden centers and often bloom well in containers.  Herbaceous peonies are the least expensive as they are easier to grow and propagate.  Fern-leaf, tree, and hybrid types are often more expensive but well worth the cost as the plants are long-lived.  Peony plants typically last for generations.

single white peony flower
SIngle white herbaceous peony

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