It is obvious from the review of peony literature and actual growing research done over the past 30 years that species peonies are very often misidentified and could best be described as a mess. Hong De-Yuan's recent book on the genus paeonia, Peonies of the World published in 2010 with Part 2 released recently bring a great deal of order to correcting the inaccuracies found in peony species identification. Some of the species offered are identified as accurately as possible to the best of our knowledge. Seedlings grown from wild collected seed have been misidentified often as one species and bloomed out as another. Until we had a chance to compare them to another similar species or key them out with the new information just published we have grown some plants under an older and what is now considered an incorrect name for decades. A good example is the one now identified as P. arietina which we received as P. mascula wild collected seed. This situation has not been helped with a multiplicity of names applied to the same species or the same name being applied to several different species.
One example is that P. peregrina has been called: P. officinalis var. peregrina, P. decora, P. decora var. pallasii, P. decora elatior, P. lobata, P. officinalis, P. multifida, P. romanica, P. tartarica, P. officinalis var. tartarica, P. byzanthina and P. byzanthina subspecies decora. In addition 7 other species have at one time or another been named as varieties of P. peregrina under several different names. All together 29 names have been misapplied to just this one species now properly called Paeonia peregrina. For the plant breeder this means that we don't know if P. officinalis listed as a parent of some of our most brilliant red hybrids was actually P. peregrina or even the recently described Paeonia saueri as some of the offspring look very peregrina like and not at all like P. officinalis. P. off. James Crawford Wegeulin is in all likeliness a selection of P. peregrina or a fertile hybrid of it or again perhaps a P. saueri hybrid. From the plant habit and the way it responds as a seed parent I suspect P. peregrina Sunshine is a hybrid with one parent being P. peregrine and the other parent unknown.
In my 30 years of growing species peonies it took 15 years to finally secure the yellow form of P. daurica mlokosewitschii grown from seed from a friend in Germany and at least that long to get a true P. anomala anomala. My wish list still includes: P. saurei, and P. parnassica. If you grow either of these please or know of a reputable source I would appreciate if you would get in touch. In the last few years I have been unsuccessful in finding any source of authentic wild peony species plants or seeds.
Several species have not proved successful under my growing conditions, namely P. broteri, P. cambessedesii, P. daurica tomentosa, P. ludlowii and P. brownii lingered for several years getting smaller every year until it no longer survived. Several species have not been trialed since I have not been able to find a seed source. Others have just held on with occasional flowering such as P. daurica wittmanniana which grows in a dappled sun woodland amongst limestone rock in its native habitat.
I killed several mature plants and many seedlings of P. obovata and was not successful until I had a good understanding of the natural growing conditions of P. obovata. They are woodland plants with the growing buds found at ground level growing in a loose woodland type duff of decomposing leaves and most importantly growing in dappled shade for a good part of the day. My attempts to plant the eyes 1-2 inches deep and in full sun met with failure. What you know about growing the common garden peony may not apply to the wild species. Some are found in calcareous (limestone) soils and may benefit from the addition of lime if the soil is acidic. They often come from areas with excellent soil drainage and photos of them in their native habitat clearly show their affinity for rocky soils.
Some peony species recover very slowly from division and are not as forgiving as the common garden peony, P. lactiflora. P. daurica mlokosewitschii takes over 6 years to reach division size often only allowing for one division to sell and one to replant. Neither do the species make the neat and often numerous 3-5 eye divisions we get from P. lactiflora cultivars. If so they would be more readily available in the specialty plant trade.
Most of the peony species are threatened or endangered in their native areas of origin hence the inability to locate seed or plant material for propagation or use in breeding. These are precious plants that we offer and deserve excellent care on your part.
Please don't feel obligated to buy any of the species listed if you are not up to giving them the best care possible which includes excellent soil preparation consisting of a well-drained and aerated soil. Most often this means adding a good quality milled sphagnum peat moss at a rate of 1 part peat moss to 3 parts of the existing soil well mixed NEVER LAYERED. Never plant in a soggy location or one subjected to spring flooding even for a short period of time. Time after time gardeners on heavy clay soils have reported losses of species and their hybrids when they failed to make the proper preparations with a raised bed that included amended soils. Gravelly, sandy soils with the addition of peat moss have been the most satisfactory except for the species P. obovata.
Mature divisions of the peony species may have only 2 eyes naturally depending on the species growth habit which is how nature made them. If you look at the photos on the web from their native habitat many are single stemmed flowering plants all their lives, not massive clumps like P. lactiflora can grow to be.
As our world becomes smaller interest in these marvelous wild representatives of our beloved peony are being taken up by those who appreciate their simple beauty and wish to preserve them as their wild populations decrease to the point of being of concern and even needing protected status.
If you love the species you may wish to check out the hybrid peony pages that are the immediate decendants of some of the species and are often easier to grow than their wild parents.
Peony Species are the wild botanical forms of the peony found in nature or some ancient double flowered selections known as far back as the 1500's. As our world grows smaller preserving the plants and the genetics of these wild plants becomes more important. Species peonies from Hidden Springs Flower Farm are sold as fresh dug field divisions from mature flowering plants. For those that do not divide easily we have been seed propagating as many as we can hand pollenate and will be looking at selling plants or seedlings that are first bloom plants that are undivided in the future. This gives you a better start and all are grown in unprotected fields here in Minnesota's USDA Zone 4. Peony species are some of the more demanding and challenging of the types of peonies grown because they tolerate the least amount of crowding and die quickly in soggy wet soil conditions. Many come from alpine mountain habitats with rocky soils that provide excellent water drainage and root aeration. They are very intolerant of growing in pots which is why you are not finding them offered at the hardware or discount stores. Some of them go dormant very early in the season and so need special attention to siting in the garden to avoid overwatering at that time.
Species Peonies are often noted for their small and often dwarf plant habit like Paeonia veitchii and Paeonia tenuifolia which never need staking. The double flowered forms of Paeonia officinalis have a natural habit of producing a plant up to 4 feet wide.
Species peonies flowers are found in colors from pure white, soft pastel lavender, pink, vibrant red-orange, lipstick red, patterned flowers and even yellow.
Some of the first peonies to bloom in the perennial garden are the species peonies right along with some of the early blooming daffodils and tulips.
Species peonies have a wide range of plant sizes and foliage types from the fern leaf peonies narrow foliage to wide blue green foliage of the species from Soviet Georgia like Paeonia daurica ssp daurica (formerly named P. mascula triternata).