Paeony, Or Peony (also written piony, and sometimes in popular language reduced to piny), the common name for plants of the genus Poeonia, which is said to have been so called in honor of Paeon or Paean, the Homeric physician of the gods of Olympus. The genus belongs to the ranun.culaceoe or crowfoot family; it consists of large herbs with tuberous roots, or of shrubs with roots somewhat fleshy, but not distinctly tuberous. The large leaves are compound or decompound, and in the herbaceous species nearly all radical. The very large regular flowers have five persistent sepals, and live to ten broad, conspicuous petals; stamens very numerous, inserted on a fleshy disk (a distinguishing character in the genus), which surrounds the base of the two to live pistils; these at maturity form as many leathery pods, often recurved when ripe, and containing several large seeds. A great many species are enumerated in the books, but they are all probably reducible to four or five; they are natives of southern Europe and the temperate parts of Asia, and one species is found on our northwest coast.
Paeonies were introduced into English gardens more than three centuries ago, and so great is the tendency of the species to vary that the named sorts form a very long list, Of the herbaceous species, some produce only a single flower to each stem, and have downy pods. One of this group is the common paeony (P. officinalis), the best known of all, a native of southern Europe; it is very smooth, with coarsely divided green leaves; the flowers are red in the wild state, when they are of course single, a condition in which they are sometimes seen in gardens, though the double-flowered is more common; this has produced varieties of various shades of red and crimson, pink, and even white. Among the named varieties of this species are the anemoniflora, a double red, Sabini, deep crimson, and aureo-limlata, in which the centre is tilled with small crimson petals surrounded by a row of large outer petals having yellow edges. The purple paeony is P. peregrina (also called P. paradoxa), from the Levant; its leaves are three-parted, with the divisions cut into many lobes, glaucous above, and pale and more or less downy beneath; the flowers are smaller than in the common species, and purplish red, with the petals cut on the margins; it has produced varieties of other colors, and some, especially fimbriata, in which the petals are conspicuously fringed.
The slender-leaved psoony (P. tenuifolia), also culled the fennel-leaved, is, as its name indicates, very different from the others in foliage, the leaves being much divided into slender, almost thread-like lobes. This is a native of Siberia, and a very beautiful species; it seldom grows over 18 in. high, and with its dark crimson flowers, much smaller than in the other species, contrasted with the delicately cut foliage, it appears very unlike a paeony; there is a variety with double flowers. The Chinese paeony (P. albiflora), also called white-flowered, fragrant, and edible paeony, is a native of Siberia, and has long been in cultivation; it differs from all of the preceding in having several flowers upon each stem, and smooth pods; it grows about 3 ft. high, and has bright green foliage and flowers, rather smaller than those of the common species. The wild flowers are white, but its varieties present a great diversity in color from white and rose color to purple, and some have yellowish and salmon-colored petals; some are sweet-scented, and many are double.
This species has produced many more varieties than either of the others, some of which, having originated in China, have been regarded as species; some of the sorts are of great beauty, showing a blending of various shades or a contrast of different colors in the same flower. Of the older varieties, one of the most remarkable is Humei, with very large purplish rose-colored flowers, so thoroughly double that they produce no seed; Pottsii has the darkest crimson flowers; and Whitleyi and festiva are white-flowered and fragrant. - The tree paeony (P. moutan) is shrubby; on this account, and as the disk at the base of the ovaries, which in the herbaceous species is a mere ring, in this is developed to form a thin fleshy sac, covering the five or more ovaries, it has been placed in a distinct genus, moutan; but the best authorities retain it as a paeonia. The specific name, moutan, is said to be from the Chinese meu-tang, meaning the king of flowers. In our gardens it is seldom more than 3 ft. high, but it is said to reach 10 ft. in China, where as well as in Japan it is a favorite plant. It forms by branching near the base a hemispherical bush, which when covered with a profu-sion of large flowers presents a splendid appearance.
The ample leaves are of a pale glaucous color; the flowers, which are 0 in. or more across, are single or double, and present the same varieties in color as the herbaceous kinds, and some of them are fragrant. There are 50 or more varieties in the catalogues, but many of these are not very distinct; among the most striking are the poppy-flowered (var. papaveracea), with large single flowers, sometimes 10 in. across, with white petals having a deep purple spot at the base of each; some of the poppy-flowered kinds are blush or rose-colored, with purple centres. - It is within a comparatively few years that paeonies have been regarded as florists' flowers; the introduction of new and fine varieties has caused their merits to be appreciated, and they are now much used for decorative planting. From their size they are not suitable for small gardens or borders, but if set where they can be seen from a little distance, against a background of evergreen or other dark foliage, they are very effective, and their foliage is pleasing when the plants are not in bloom.
The herbaceous species and their varieties are perfectly hardy; the slender or fennel-leaved blooms early in May; the varieties of the common paeony flower from the middle to the end of May, and are succeeded by the Chinese sorts, which continue through June and July. New varieties are obtained from seed, which should be sown as soon as ripe, and even then it often remains dormant for a year. The established sorts are multiplied by division; this should be done in early autumn, which is also the proper time for transplanting, as the plants are then perfectly dormant; if disturbed in spring, they seldom flower that year. The plant, being carefully taken up, is divided into as many pieces as there are buds, if a tuber can be secured with each. To obtain the best results, they should have a rich soil and be left undisturbed for several years. The varieties of the tree paeony bloom in May and later; in very cold localities they need a slight protection; they are propagated from suckers thrown up by old plants, by layering, by cuttings, and by grafting, either upon roots of the same kind or those of the herbaceous species. - Our native species is Poeonia Brovmii (P. Californica is the same), which is found from the mountains of Washington territory to those of California; it is a low herbaceous plant, with comparatively small reddish-purple flowers, which do not fully expand.
Common Paeony (Paeonia officinalis).
Slender-leaved Paeony (Paeonia tenuifolia).
Tree Paeony (Paeonia moutan).