Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Plant Feature: Peony

Botanical name: Paeonia
Flower: Large, fragrant blooms in late spring, early summer.
Leaves: Lush, green, compound, deeply lobed.
Sun: Full sun, or at least 5 hours of sun daily.
Water: drought tolerant post establishment
Size: Ranges due to type of plant
Zone: 3 to 8

The peony is a herbaceous perennial that comes in the form of a non-woody plant, a tree or shrub and a hybrid form, known as Itoh or intersectional. The peony produces large fragrant blooms, ranging in color from white to yellow to pink and red. It blooms in late spring to early summer, lasting an average of 7 to 10 days, and maintains lush green leaves through the summer. In the autumn the foliage turns a purple or a gold shade. The peony requires little maintenance, but responds poorly to transplanting. Be sure on its location when planting because the peony can live up to 100 years.

The peony is native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America, although it is cultivated throughout North America and Europe. The nomenclature of the peony originates from Greek Mythology. It is named after Paeon, a student of Ascelpius, the Greek God of medicine and healing. In short, Ascelpius became jealous of Paeon and to save Paeon from the wrath of Ascelpius, Zeus turned Paeon into a Peony.

The peony plays a large role in Chinese culture. It is known as the flower of riches and honor, or the king of flowers. It is the smallest living national emblem in China. The peony also has become very common in tattoos, associated with the use of Koi. This was popularized due to illustrations from a Chinese novel, Suikoden, written by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The novel is about warrior heroes who are painted with tattoos, giving the peony a masculine, daredevil attribute.

To properly care for the peony, plant it in fall and allow for time after planting before the first frost. The peony will need more care in the first few years of planting to properly get established. It needs soil with a neutral pH. Plant the peony in deep, fertile, hummus-rich soil and make sure to not smother the plant with mulch. It prefers a sheltered environment where it does not have to compete with other plants for water and sun. Most cultivars of the peony need full sun to thrive, plant it where it can receive either a full day of sun or a minimum of 5 hours in the sun.  Water it thoroughly and deadhead the flowers when they begin to fade.

Propagation of the peony is dependent of the type of peony one is handling. For an herbaceous peony root division or seed propagation works best. For a tree peony propagation is best performed by grafting, division, seed or cuttings. The peony is prone to verticillium wilt, leaf and stem spots, ring spot virus, tip blight, stem rot, botrytis blight, left blotch, Japanese beetle and Nematode. Yet the most common pest is ants. The ants are attracted to the flower buds where the nectar forms outside of the buds. Let the ants be because they are saving the flowers from being eaten by other pests. Once the buds have opened the ants will disappear. Just be sure to choose tight buds that haven’t opened to prevent bringing the ants indoors. Also cut the stems long to last more than one week indoors. 

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