Tree Peonies The name is a complete misnomer since these plants are not trees, rather they are deciduous shrubs, often no more than a metre in height and breadth. In favourable growing conditions vigorous varieties get bigger, but even then they are clearly shrubs, not trees. The first record of them comes from China where a painting dating from between AD 345-406 shows a garden scene with them present. In fact, in China, ‘Peony’ nearly always refers to the ‘mudan’ or ‘moutan’ - the Tree Peony. As well as for their garden value, they were cutivated for medicinal purposes, the bark of the root being especially valued and this is so through to the present day. In fact, during the ‘Cultural Revolution’, the Maoist inspired upheaval which took place between 1966 and 1976, Tree Peonies were regarded as a bourgeois affectation when planted solely for their floral beauty. Consequently, many were ripped up by the Red Guard, and collections were only saved if the owner managed to convince the authorities that they were being grown as a source of medicine. One of the oldest Tree Peonies, ‘Yua Huang’ (Yao’s Yellow) mentioned in texts dating to circa 1034 is still widely available today They were first introduced into Britain in 1789, when a plant fetched specially from China was planted in the gardens at Kew. Hybridisation followed apace and now, thanks to Chinese,Japanese,French, German and American growers, there are literally thousands hybrids available, ranging in  colour from pure white through to darkest red (almost black). In between are all shades of cream, yellow, pink, red and many multicoloured hues. A ‘true’ blue does not exist, nor for that matter, does a rich purple or a ‘true’ long-lasting orange. In addition to colour variation, different flower forms exist, ranging from single to very full double. The classification of species and hybrids is still  a matter for debate, but for the purposes of these pages, hybrids will be referred to as ‘Central Plains’, ‘Gansu Mudan’ or ‘Japanese’ or ‘lutea derived’. Far greater discussion on these matters can be found in many books devoted to Paeonia.
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