One of the many joys of spring at Cylburn is our collection of Tree Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). Installed by the Roland Park Garden Club in 1980 when the plant was both rare and expensive, the unusual stand that flanks our formal garden is a gem among the arboretum’s holdings.
Beloved in China for over a thousand years, the Tree Peony was once grown solely for the pleasure of the Chinese emperor. Even today, the Tree Peony is considered the unofficial national flower of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Its spring flowers look just like those of the herbaceous peony — big, loose and colorful, with multiple layers of petals and a sweet fragrance.
In China, the peony’s lush growth and blowsy petals made it the symbol of prosperity. In Japan, the same attributes seemed like a masculine symbol of devil-may-care attitude and a disregard for consequences, and there it was a popular motif for men’s tattoos. It is no wonder that in Asia the naming of Tree Peonies often approaches poetry with names such as “Red Beauty of China” and “Purple Dragon in a Pink Pool.” We have varieties called “Red Moon,” “Rose Flame” and even “Stolen Heaven.”
The Tree Peony is a woody plant that does not die back in winter like its herbaceous relatives, but it never approaches the size of a tree. It will stay in the 3 to 5 foot range and take a long time getting there. These are long lived plants that can survive for over 200 years.
The blossoms however are fairly short lived each spring. In fact there are just a few beautiful lush weeks to see them in their prime. Now! So to steal a bit of heaven, come visit them soon in bloom!
Pictured above clockwise: Gosha Zakura, Red Moon, America, Black Sea, Stolen Heaven, Shimadaijin, Rose Flame, and Banski. Lady Baltimore has a beautiful view!