Peony (Paeonia sp.)

Encyclopedia Article



image of peony ‘Emma Khlem’
Peony ‘Emma Khlem’

Family: Paeoniaceae

Size: 2.5’ to 3’ tall and wide

Hardiness: zones 3-8

Leaves: glossy divided leaves have oval, to lanceolate leaflets 3” to 8” long.

Leaf Color:  dark green

Flowers:  Many flower types, species has ruffled petals in whites, pinks, and reds that surround a tuft of yellow stamens. Flower types include Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-Double, Double, and Bomb-Double.  Flowers open in May (usually Memorial Day) but bloom time can vary slightly (by a few weeks) depending on cultivar.

Fruit: a capsule

Habit: rounded shrub

Stem: herbaceous

Nativity: China, Burma, Japan

Insects & Disease Issues: Few issues.  Sometimes leaf spot, Botrytis blight and Phytophthora blight.  Ants on blooms are not a problem.

image of peony summer foliage
Summer Foliage on Peony

Culture and Uses:

These long-lived plants are best planted and left alone.  Grow in full sun or part sun in well drained, fertile, moist soils.  Deadhead flowers after bloom in late May.  Remove foliage in the fall at ground level.  Plants are beautiful in spring but hold little other interest throughout the year, except some marginal yellow fall color.  For this reason be sure to place in the perennial border where the flowers can be appreciated in spring and the dark green foliage can be used as a backdrop for other plants the rest of the year.  When peonies do not bloom it is either because they are too young or have recently been moved, they are planted at the wrong depth, they are in too much shade, or the flower buds where killed by a late frost. Most herbaceous peonies (the ones that die to the ground each year) are either selections or crosses of P. lactiflora, P. officinalis, P. japonica, or any of about 26 other species. 

Notable Cultivars & Related Species:

Dozens and dozens of cultivars—pick your favorite.

P. suffruticosa (tree peony) - these large shrub-like peonies have woody stems and flowers in red, pink, white, and yellow.  Reliably hardy to zone 5.

P. tenuifolia (fern-leaf peony) - finely divided, fern-like foliage, smaller habit, herbaceous, can be difficult to establish

Itoh peonies (intersectional) - a cross between herbaceeous and tree peonies, usually have large tree peony flowers on herbaceous stems.

image of Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’
Peony ‘Krinkled White’

image of paeonia 'nippon chief'
Peony 'Nippon Chief'

image of Paeonia ‘Peter Piper’
Peony ‘Peter Piper’

image of Paeonia ‘Snow Mountain’
Peony ‘Snow Mountain’

image of Paeonia 'Tango'
Peony 'Tango'

image of peony seed pods
Seed Pods of Peony

image of fernleaf peony Paeonia tenuifolia
Fernleaf Peony