Japanese Tree Peony Hybrids

Japan has no native Tree Peonies and the plants now sold as ‘Japanese’ hybrids are the result of many generations of hybridity practised by Japanese plantsmen since the first Tree Peonies were imported from China in the 8th Century for medicinal purposes. The Japanese soon realised their value as ornamental plants and breeding began. They concentrated on flower colour and size, whereas the Chinese were more interested in form, consequently, some Japanese hybrids have the largest of flowers found in the type as well as vividness of colour. However, this has sometimes been achieved at the expense of form and some varieties show a marked reluctance to produce side shoots, leading to a tall single stemmed appearance. The variety Yukizaza exhibits this sort of structure. Given the fact that some Japanese plants have a distinct basal flare or blotch, it is possible that some degree of P. rockii influence is present. The Tree peonies sold in Britain in the mid 19th Century were Japanese imports and frequently had their names changed by retailers from the ‘strange’ Japanese to more easily remembered English ones. Sometimes the new names were selected to flatter aristocratic customers. Eventually, the Japanese also imported American and French hybrids and renamed them,so we find that it is possible to buy ‘Japanese’ plants that are identical to other well known varieties, examples being:
  • Kinkaku = Souvenir du Professeur Maxime Cornu
  • Kinko = Alice Harding
  • Kinshi = Chromatella
  • Kintei = L’Esperance
  • Hainun = High Noon
It is often possible to buy small, grafted Japanese Tree Peonies at ridiculously low prices in the Spring. These plants are sold by colour (a gaudy label), propagated in China and imported through Holland. Experience shows that even the classification by colour alone is rarely accurate, and the buyer should be prepared for the flower colour failing to match that on the label.
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