While the name implies “tall tree” their form is really a shrub. Their leaves drop in the fall and stiff woody stems remain all winter. Depending on the type and cultivar height can be from 2’ to 6’ and 3’ to 8’ wide. Tree peonies are native to China and Tibet. They have been grown and highly valued for medicinal use in China for over 2000 years. We grow them for their incomparable beauty.
Chinese tree peonies sold here are of two groups. The common Chinese tree peony is the suffruticosa group comprising a very diverse and beautiful assortment of flower colors and flower forms. We grow very few in this group because unfortunately in our area the flower buds often fail due to spring frosts unless they are planted where they have some protection.
The Rocki hybrid group from China is different from the common group in several features. The plants grow larger, are much hardier and are more adaptable. They have many hairy roots which makes transplanting and container growing easier. The range of flower color may not be quite as wide but they are more floriferous. Each flower has a deep maroon flare at the base of each petal. All the flower forms are found from single to fully double. Their leaves have more leaflets giving the rocki cultivars a finer texture. The many cultivars were derived from cross breeding wild species rocki and perhaps other species and the suffruticosa varieties. They grow from 4’ to 6’ tall and 4’ to 8’ wide. When we were in China we saw spectacular old specimens that were over 8’ high and 10’ wide. We import our rocki hybrids directly from a special nursery in China.
Japanese Tree Peonies
These are probably the most commonly found tree peonies in American nurseries. They came about from peonies imported into Japan from China around 800AD. After centuries of skillful plant breeding Japanese tree peonies are distinctive in having somewhat larger flowers and more uniform plant form. They bloom a couple weeks later than the Chinese tree peonies and usually are not damaged by spring frosts. Flower form is usually semi-double, but a few varieties are single or double. They will grow to be about 3’ to 4’ high and 3’ to 6’ wide.
Much work has been done by hybridizers’ in crossing unusual colors of species tree peonies with some existing hybrids, creating a handful of beautiful forms of tree peonies with an unusual color range. It is within these varieties that we find the yellows and subtle and often indescribable colors!