JHT photos: on the peony patrol

Recently unearthed: another huge trove of photographs, including a set of photos my man Jacques took back in the 80s and 90s. Places J loved (at Stanford: the Burghers of Calais, the fountain in White Plaza, scenes near the Dish on the foothills; Sather Tower at Berkeley; the house and garden on Beaunmont Rd. in Columbus, the house on Ramona St. in Palo Alto). Today it’s peonies in Columbus.

From my 5/1/15 posting “peonies”:

Continuing a thread on flowering plants that don’t thrive where I live now (in Palo Alto CA) but do thrive where I lived before (in Columbus OH); the key is needing cold winters, with at least some freezing. [Three such plants: lilacs, forsythia, peonies. They can be grown here — peonies are blooming in Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden as I write — but you probably need to find varieties that are ok with mild winters and might need to give them extra care.]

The 2015 posting had, at this point, material from the Wikipedia page at the time, which had useful cultural information and etymological information, connecting the flower name to Asclepius. The current Wikipedia page seemns to be focused mostly on matters of taxonomy.

The Columbus garden had three different types of peony — two that came with the property, a third that Jacques and I added.

The first is Paeonia lactifolia, a staple of gardens in the Northeast and Midwest, the plant that most gardeners there think of simply as “peonies”. It’s one of the drama queens of the flower world in these parts — big blowsy flowers mostly in the color range from white through pink and light purple to red (similar in some ways to the showier roses).

Second, the fern-leaved peony, Paeonia tenuifolia. The flowers are single, the leaves are deeply incised (like ferns), and the flowers are typically deep red … A delightful plant.

Finally, tree peonies, which are deciduous shrubs rather than herbaceous plants. [photo of Paeonia suffruticosa] … Possibly Jacques’s favorite plant, after roses. He introduced me to tree peonies, to my great pleasure. We had a particularly beautiful yellow one.

Eventually we had two yellow ones and, if I remember correctly, some others too.

Brief lexicographic notes from NOAD2:

ORIGIN Old English peonie, via Latin from Greek paiōnia, from Paiōn, the name of the physician of the gods.

[from a related source, the noun] paeon: a metrical foot of one long syllable and three short syllables in any order

[from a related source, the noun] paean: a song of praise or triumph; a thing that expresses enthusiastic praise

On the botanical front, the genus Paeonia is the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae, and that’s a new plant family on this blog: #63. But the three plants described above — especially the fern-leaved peonies — look very much like plants in the ranunculus, or buttercup, family.

All three were illustrated in my earlier posting, but now we get Jacques‘s photos, which have a value beyond mere visual information. The fern-leaved peonies, from May 1994 (during their short but fabulous bloom time):


A web image with a close-up view of the flowers, with their bright yellow stamens:


(If you study the leaves, you can see that they are in fact just like the lobed leaves of usual peonies, just really really thin.)

From Wikipedia:

Paeonia tenuifolia is a herbaceous species of peony [with names in various Slavic languages that mean ‘fine-leaved peony’, ‘narrow peony’, or ‘steppe peony’] … In English it is sometimes called the fern leaf peony. It is native to the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, as well as areas in Ukraine north of the Black Sea, westward into Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia and eastward to northwestern Kazakhstan. It was described by Linnaeus in 1759. The leaves are finely divided into almost thread-like segments and grow close together on the stems. This peony can reach between 30 and 60 centimeters in height. The flowers are red and scented with numerous yellow stamens in the centre.

P. tenuifolia flowers earlier than other peonies, and dies down early too. This is probably because it grows in steppes, with dry and hot summers.

Then the tree peonies. Two yellow ones, one as close as they get to single-flowered (from 1990):


And a big double-flowered variety (from 1992):


The plants came from White Flower Farm in Connecticut, and they were expensive, but they arrived in beautiful shape and flourished. You can look at the company’s current tree peony offerings here; they include this Paeonia suffruticosa Shikounishiki (now $80):


I don’t think this beauty was available 25-30 years ago; otherwise, Jacques and I would certainly have gotten it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: