How many types of peonies are you familiar with? And, are you thinking of adding more peonies to your garden but aren’t sure which ones to go for?
Well, there are hundreds of different varieties of peonies around the world all of which are easily available in the garden centers and nurseries near you.
All you need to do is decide what qualities you want.
For example, the color or shape of the flowers, the blossom time as well as other characteristics like hardiness and easiness to grow and care for.
In this article, I’ve listed and discussed the various peony types plus, some varieties under each category. So, read through it and find out which peony you have and which one you’d like to add to your collection.
What are Peonies?
Peonies are flowering perennial plants that add beauty and color to gardens mostly from spring to fall.
These low-maintenance plants typically, grow to about 2 to 7 feet upon maturity. This depends on the type of peony you’re having. Some are fragrant, while others are unscented.
Again, the flowers of peony plants also differ depending on the peony type and variety. In general, all peonies have five or more large outer petals and modified stamens at the center regardless of the flower form.
In addition to this, some peonies may exhibit single flowers, while others have semi-double, double, bomb, Japanese, or anemone types (like you’ll see later as you go through the article).
Just like flowers, the leaves of peonies vary depending on the type and variety as well. Some types have hairless, glossy leaves, while others may have dark-green leaves with some underside hairs.
Uses of Peonies
All types of peonies contain high amounts of anti-inflammatory glucosides. They also contain an abundant amount of paeoniflorin which is largely responsible for peony's medicinal actions, although other compounds play an important role as well.
Therefore, peonies are not only used in landscaping, gardening, and floral arrangements but, their plant parts e.g. bark, flowers, roots, and seeds can be used for curing ailments such as abdominal pains, fevers, muscle cramps and, sores.
3 Best Types of Peonies to Consider for Your Garden – by Growth Habit
Peonies can be classified into three main types/groups I.e. Tree peonies, Herbaceous peonies, and Intersectional peonies which are also known as Itoh peonies.
So, let’s take a look at each of the categories.
1. Tree Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa)
These are woody, deciduous shrub peonies native to China. They usually grow to approximately 10 feet high and about 4 feet wide.
The growth of tree peonies is slower compared to that of herbaceous peonies. However, this doesn’t rule them out as one of the excellent choices for accents or borders, especially when planted in groups.
Tree peonies are popular for their large, fragrant flowers and delicate, fine foliage. Their woody stalks allow for the plants to produce huge flowers without a need for staking. The flowers on tree peonies also tend to last much longer compared to those of herbaceous peonies.
However, tree peonies are less-tolerant to harsh environmental conditions than herbaceous peonies. Plus, they also require more annual maintenance like pruning than herbaceous ones.
While some varieties of tree peonies are hardy in zone 3, a majority of tree peonies are hardy in zones 4 through 8. They thrive best in cold winters for dormancy and hot summers. Although we can say tree peonies are considered full sun plants, some dappled to light shade from the hot afternoon sun won’t hurt. Too much sunlight causes the flowers to fade and wither quickly.
Also referred to as ‘Woody Shrub Peonies’.
A few types of tree peonies include;
Peony 'Duchess of Kent'
'Duchess of Kent' is a vigorous, reliable peony with large, carmine-red, fully double blooms. Its red stems and leaf stalks add to its beauty, especially when it's not in bloom. It flowers slightly later than most other tree peonies.
The height and spread of this peony is approximately 120cm x 90cm in about 8 years.
Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii
This is a tree peony with spectacular cut foliage that provides a fresh, green backdrop for the bright yellow blooms. Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii reaches a bigger size than most other tree peonies. Therefore, give it more room for expansion. Large pods holding glossy black seeds follow on from the flowers.
It matures to a height of about 3.5m.
Peony 'Shimane Sedai'
Another beautiful peony with rose-colored flowers with slightly ruffled petals at the edges. During the early stages, the flowers are semi-double, but as this peony matures, the flowers become progressively larger and more double.
Just like the Peony 'Duchess of Kent', the Peony 'Shimane Sedai's mature size is approximately 120cm x 90cm.
Peony 'Showanohokori' has purple-pink blooms with delicate black markings at the base of the petals which draws the eye to the striking yellow centers.
Plant this tree peony alongside a carpet of forget-me-nots (Myosotis) or Chinese forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum amabile) and it will look astounding.
The height and spread of a Peony 'Showanohokori' is about 120cm x 90cm.
Other examples of tree peonies are; Peony 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu', Peony 'Duchess of Marlborough', Peony 'Shimanishiki', and, Peony 'Reine Elizabeth' among others.
2. Herbaceous Peonies
Herbaceous peonies are the most popular types of peonies and contrary to tree peonies, they die to the ground in the fall and come back in the next spring.
The maintenance of herbaceous peonies is quite low with some requiring staking to support the blooms in some climates while others don’t need support at all. The stems of herbaceous peonies last for just one growing season.
Nevertheless, you can divide the roots in late fall or early spring to restore the plant and create new propagation plants.
This type of peony is mostly used as cut flowers and in gardens. Herbaceous peonies provide a wide variety of flower types from single peonies to semi-double, double, bomb, Japanese, and Anemone peonies. The flower colors also vary from deep red to yellow, white, cream, pink, rose, and more.
The most common varieties of herbaceous peonies include;
Karl Rosenfield Peony
A striking red American peony variety with large, deep-red, fluffy double blooms. These hardy perennial peony plants grow to approximately 3 inches tall with ornamentally green foliage.
Their large blooms can get to about 6 to 7 inches wide, therefore, excellent cut flowers for bouquets.
Karl Rosenfield Peonies are often crimson-red which sometimes appear as dark pink. The bloom color varies depending on the growing conditions of individual plants.
These soft-stemmed peonies are cultivars of Paeonia lactiflora bred in Nebraska and are good examples of ‘double’ peonies. They’re highly scented and attractive to butterflies.
Sarah Bernhardt Peony
This is a soft pink French heirloom double peony cultivar with soft pink petals. The low-maintenance herbaceous perennial plants bloom best under full sun and plenty of moisture.
The Sarah Bernhardt Peony is a cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora bred in France by Victor Lemoine in the late 1800s and named after a French Actress- Sarah Bernhardt.
Its size is approximately 34 to 36 inches tall and 24 to 36 inches wide. Sarah Bernhardt is a mid-spring to early-summer, bloomer.
Other Varieties of Herbaceous Peonies
There’re several other varieties of herbaceous peonies including Bowl of Beauty Peony, Shirley Temple Peony, Felix Crousse Peony, Coral Charm Peony, and, Pink Hawaiian Coral Peony among others.
3. Intersectional or Itoh Peonies
Intersectional peonies are also called Itoh peonies (after Japanese breeder Dr. Toichi Itoh). They’re modern peony crossbreeds between common herbaceous peonies and woody-type tree peonies.
The main aim of breeding the intersectional peonies was to have large, fragrant flowers and fine foliage.
Plus, a compact growth habit and high tolerance to cold. Although Intersectional peonies exhibit large flowers and woody stems similar to tree peonies, the difference is that they wither to the ground in the fall like herbaceous peonies.
These peonies tend to bloom a few weeks later than the herbaceous peonies hence, helps in extending the peony season into early summer.
Examples of intersectional/Itoh peonies include;
Lollipop Itoh Peony
Lollipop Itoh Peony is one of the several Itoh varieties, all of which are hardy and easy to grow.
These plants exhibit an upright bush growth habit, with lush green leaves, from which large, semi-double blooms appear in spring. The flowers emerge as yellow and later to purple stripes as they mature.
Cora Louise Itoh Peony
This intersectional peony features 8 to 10 inches wide, large, semi-double, pure white flowers. It’s a late spring-early summer bloomer that flowers for several weeks. This is due to many side buds that open in sequence.
Cora Louise Itoh peonies are pleasantly fragrant and this is one of the reasons why many people keep them near the dining areas. Other than that, they have a long vase life, therefore, are excellent as cut flowers.
Other examples of intersectional peonies are; Garden Treasure Itoh Peony (yellow), Hillary Itoh Peony (pink), Bartzella Itoh Peony (yellow), Julia Rose Itoh Peony (pink), Scrumdiddlyumptious Itoh Peony (pink), Julia Rose Itoh Peony (pink-orange-yellow), First Arrival Itoh Peony (pink – the best Itoh peony), Kopper Kettle Itoh Peony (soft orange) and, Prairie Charm Itoh Peony (yellow) among others.
6 More Types of Peonies by Flower Forms
Apart from the above-mentioned main types of peonies i.e. Tree peonies, Herbaceous peonies, and Intersectional peonies, we can further categorize peonies depending on their respective flower forms.
These categories include;
1. Single Form Peonies
The single-form peonies have one or two rows of at least five eminent outer guards. These guard petals surround a center of golden pollen-bearing stamens.
The Imperial Red peonies and the Fairy Princess are examples of single-form peonies.
2. Semi-Double Form Peonies
These too have five or more guard petals with a distinguished center of pollen-bearing stamens. They have more than one row of guard petals that appear from the exposed flower crown.
The semi-double peonies can at times look like the double peonies but differ in that they have visible anthers when the flowers are in full bloom. A good example of a Semi-Double Form Peony is the ‘Coral Charm’.
3. Double Form Peonies
The Double Form Peonies have multiple rows of petals originating from the flower crown that’s covered by petals.
They show an advanced transformation of the stamens and sometimes stigma into petals which make up the main flower body (sometimes the transformation leaves no trace of stigma or the stamen).
In some varieties of a double from peonies, the guard petals are shorter than the petioles which make the blooms appear globular.
On the other hand, there’re Double Form Peonies with longer and pronounced guard petals thereby forming the ‘Bomb Type Peonies’.
An example of a Double Form Peony is the ‘Paul M. Wild Peony’.
4. Bomb Double Form Peonies
As I mentioned earlier, in some varieties of the Double type the guard petals are shorter than the petioles (globular bloom) while in others, the guard petals are longer and more prominent (Bomb Type).
However, this form is not constant and often in the same bloom which starts with prominent guard petals, the petioles keep on developing until they nearly eliminate the guards eventually making a globular bloom.
The stamen of the "Bomb Type" are transformed into significant petals and no pollen is present.
Although these may or may not have the flower-in-flower anatomy, the petals always develop in such a way as to form a ball-shaped center. A good example is ‘Raspberry Sundae’.
5. Japanese Form Peonies
In the Japanese peonies, the pollen-bearing stamens are more or less transformed into narrow petaloids or staminodes, showing vestiges of the yellow anthers.
The partially transformed stamens aren’t usually pollen-bearing but may sometimes carry some traces of pollen. Example; ‘Gertrude Allen’
6. Anemone Form Peonies
The Anemone Peonies look like the Japanese peony but they’re distinguished from Japanese by the absence of anthers. Their filaments take on a petal-like character, are narrow, more or less incurved, and overlapped.
Even though there are hundreds of varieties of peonies around the world, all peony plants fall into the three main types of peonies discussed above. Which are; Tree peonies, Herbaceous Peonies, and Intersectional/Itoh Peonies.
Furthermore, as you’ve seen, the flower blooms from all peonies can be classified into six types: Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-Double, Bomb, and Double.
Also, a majority of peonies have pink or white flowers, although there are also purple, orange, yellow, and even red peony varieties.
With the above choices of peonies to choose from, you can make your garden alluring just the way you want it! So, which peony do you have? And which one are you planning to add to your collection this season?
Share with us your thoughts on different peonies and how the experience has been so far.