Author: RNDr. Pavel Sekerka
The Genus of Peonies
Perennials or shrub; leaves alternate, pinnate or deep lobed, no stipules. Peonies’ flowers are bisexual and pollinated mostly with insects. They are single; calyx is loose, persistent, mostly quinate and green. Petals are large and distinctively colored, they can be leathery rarely. Stamens are big in number, possibly turning into false petals in case of some cultural forms. There is a nectarium at pistils’ base growing from a round pillow-like disc. Fruit is a lignifying follicle. Seeds are up to 1cm big, shiny and dark. Infertile seeds can turn into bright red/pink color and be very distinctive when opening follicles. Peonies grow on every continent of Northern Hemisphere, having their centre in Mediterranean, Caucasus and China. Two species are native to North America.
Peonies have been known and highly valued for their medicinal uses since ancient Greece and China. They’ve been mentioned by significant Roman scientists Plinius Senior, Dioskorides or Galenus. Flowers of European (Common) Peony have been used in pharmacy until today. Dried bark of Tree Peony has been used in East Asia. In Chinese medicine, the utility of peonies was known from Shennong Materia Medica manuscripttt published in the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 B.C.)
In gardens, there is tree peony, herbaceous peony, Chinese and European (common) peony grown. Flowers are used for cutting, arranging in vases and bouquets or as dried flowers. Also perfume can be obtained from flowers and this strong fragrance was very popular in the thirties’ England. Dried flowers of red cultivars have been used to dye syrups. Seeds’ been used in medieval England as spices for stews. Caucasian peony has been used to dye wool, silk and paper, dried seeds as beads (similar to Bladdernut). Peonies have been also part of medieval amulets against illnesses like epilepsy. In poor times at Siberia, roots of some peonies have been cooked with milk to make a mash.
Botanical Classification of Peonies
Mountan section – Tree Peonies
Leaflets oval to oval-blade; no significant dents or wide and deep dents; cup-shaped flower disc forms a sheath which covers young follicles up to one half at the beginning; single flower at the end of a branch, uprights; flower color white, pink, purple or red (P. suffruticosa).
Leaflets are blade, pointed, with deep dents; fleshy disc covers only base of the follicles. There are 1-3 flowers at leave axils, apical, can be inclined. Colors are yellow, orange, red, white
(P. lutea, P. delavayi).
Onaepia section – American Peonies
They are herbaceous peonies. Cartilaginous petals are of the same length or shorter than sepals, the disc forms a fleshy sheath around pistil. They come from North America
Paeonia section – European and Asian herbaceous peonies
Petals are thin and longer than sepals, the disc is flat. They’re from Europe and Asia.
Most of the leaflets divided into many segments (17-30 or more segments are common) segments mostly lobed or dentate; lower leaves have tight elliptic or blade segments. They are from Mediterranean and Caucasus (P. tenuifolia, P. anomala, P. officinalis, P. peregrina).
Leaflets mostly non-divided, in a count of 9-16 ( some species have 21-23, rarely more); leaves have plain rim, lower leaves are elliptic, oval to round, sometimes blade.
They come from Mediterranean and Caucasus (P. mascula, P. dahurica, P. mlokosewitschii) and East Asia (P. obovata, P. japonica).
Plants have multi-branched stems, Leaflets with cartilaginous rim, irregularly and delicately dentate; from Asia (P. lactiflora, P. emodii, P. anomala ).
Peonias in Pruhonice
Herbaceous and also tree peonies have been used in plantings while Pruhonice Park’s been founded. According to records passed on, there were 600 clumps of herbaceous peonies in the park at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Larger assortment of peonies has been kept in gardens of Dendrological Association. A Catalogue of associational gardens offered 42 taxons and cultons of herbaceous peonies in 1927.
Ing. Milada Opatrna from Research Institute of Ornamental Gardening (located also in Pruhonice) gathered in the sixties recent assortment of peonies. After their evaluation, most of the collection’s been transferred to growers and destroyed partially. While in Institute of Botany Doc. J. Hofman; a garden supervisor at that time; founded a new collection of 180 peony taxons a cultons in 1968 – 1969. In the eighties was the collection under revision of Ing. Uljana Blazkova. She has complemented the collection mainly with inter-species hybrids of herbaceous peonies.
Today there are 12 botanical species and more than 200 cultivars represented in the collection. It is based on historical and new breeds of herbaceous peonies. Count of P. lactiflora cultivars is 176, plus 30 hybrids, which makes 206 cultivars together. A significant part of the collection is section of inter-species hybrids, which breeders dedicate to in last decades. These peonies flower, as well as Common Peony, from the half of May.
A recent planting system in Botanic Garden in Pruhonice combines flower colors and breeding development: cultivars are divided according to color to whites, pinks and reds and they are planted in chronological order of breeding time within each of the groups. Many botanical species can be found on Alpine Rockery in the park and a few tree peonies are to be admired in Castle’s courtyard.