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Connecting to Our Food Web

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Paeonia suffruticosa cv Kamatanishiki - Tree Peony 10

Welcome to My Jungle - December, 2013

Peonies can be just as addictive as roses, iris, daffodils, hellebores or daylilies. Within the peony family (Paeonia), there are about 30 herbaceous species and 8 woody species to choose from. Herbaceous peonies die to the ground each winter. Paeonia lactiflora is probably the most common herbaceous species available in nurseries and is also one of the most common species parent used for hybridization. Hybridization amongst the species has created an incredible array of color and types of bloom. They also vary greatly on bloom time. Pictured above is a very early blooming yellow herbaceous peony name 'Sunny Girl', which usually blooms for me in late April to early May. Compare that to 'Sword Dance', (inset) which blooms for me in late May to early June.

I have a particular weakness for yellow peonies, particularly herbaceous yellow peonies. So you can imagine I got a little excited when a friend of mine drew my attention to a species herbaceous peony that sported yellow blooms and ornamental seed pods (inset). Affectionately known as 'Mollie-the-witch', who could resist Paeonia mlokosewitschii, especially after seeing the pictures (left) on the internet? If you have never priced peonies though, you may be shocked at some of the prices—especially for yellow herbaceous peonies. So I started my initial plant search with hopeful excitement and a small amount of trepidation. I found a nursery on the internet that had my plant, but they were unknown to me so I looked them up on Dave's Garden Watchdog to see how other gardeners rated them, and fortunately the ratings were good. Not only was the plant/root affordable ($18 healthy young root, three "eyes"), the nursery was able to ship it in time to take advantage of this recent warm spell. I should note that most herbaceous peonies are best planted or transplanted in the fall, and late summer is when most bare roots ship from the nursery. So even though I planted later than I would have liked, hopefully in a few years, my little 'Mollie-the witch' will grow to be an impressive specimen like pictured above…assuming the squirrels don't dig it up this winter!

The woody tree peonies have woody stems that lose their leaves in the fall, but the woody stems stay intact. I would also rate them as very slow to grow. Tree peonies can be own rooted or grafted. I have some of both and I prefer the own rooted simply because I don't have to continually cut root suckers like grafted plants. If you forget to cut suckers, they will develop flowers which are usually quite lovely, but keep in mind the root suckers are taking resources away from the preferred scion (grafted top). Tree peonies can reach rather impressive size over time and usually have huge blooms. A few of mine in the red and purple color range have blooms the size of dinner plates. My yellow tree peony (inset) is impressive but not to the dinner-plate size.

Then there are the intersectional or Itoh peonies. Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous peony and the tree peony, which has resulted in new and exciting colors. The plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies, but die to the ground in the winter like herbaceous peonies. The plants have very strong stems with a nice rounded bush form, generally shorter than most bush peonies. Since these are a relatively recent introduction, they still tend to command a high price. The name Itoh is in honor of Dr. Toichi Itoh, the first person to successfully hybridize these plants. He met with success in 1948 after years of failure by crossing Paeonia x lemoinei, a hybrid tree peony, with Paeonia lactiflora 'Kakoden', a white flowering herbaceous peony used as the seed parent. The name "inter-sectional" hybrid refers to the cross between section Moutan (tree peonies) and section Paeon (herbaceous peonies). My first intersectional purchase was 'Prairie Charm', mainly because it was yellow and at $50.00, the cheapest intersectional I could find. That plant has been worth every penny and after 8 years in the ground, it had near to 60 blooms this past season and is just gorgeous.

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