Types of peonies: the 40 best & most time-tested varieties (overview)

Sarah
Sarah
Sarah
Sarah

For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

The peony plant genus boasts a vast variety of species. Let us introduce you to the most beautiful and popular types of peonies.

Pink peony flowers
Peonies add a beautiful touch of colour to the garden

The genus peonies (Paeonia) holds an almost unlimited variety of flower colours and shapes. This is thanks to the intensive and lengthy work of many plant breeders around the world. Thus, it is almost difficult to name a favourite among the countless species and varieties of peonies. To make your decision a little easier, we present below the most beautiful types of peonies.

Types of peonies at a glance

Well-stocked nurseries offer up to 600 perennial peony varieties and up to 200 varieties of tree peonies. With this immense number of plants, it is good to familiarise yourself with some distinguishing features.

Different peony growth forms

The genus Paeonia includes perennial peonies on the one hand and tree peonies on the other. Both peony growth forms live up to their names: for example, the non-woody shoots of the perennial peony die back in autumn and sprout anew the next spring, bursting with vigour. The tree peony, on the other hand, grows woody shoots and does not retract for the winter. As a result, in good conditions, the growth of the tree peony is also usually much more spreading than that of the perennial peony, so it should be given a more generous space in the bed.

Which type of peony to choose?

Perennial peonies (especially Paeonia lactiflora) have a tuberous thickened rootstock and are herbaceous, meaning that the plants sprout in the spring, retreat back into the soil in autumn, and survive there with the help of their overwintering organs. Perennial peonies can reach a height of 130 cm and even grow beyond that with age. For this reason, appropriate space should be available from the outset.
Tree peonies (especially Paeonia suffruticosa) form woody shoots and branches. They also lose their leaves in autumn, but after that remain visible in the garden with their branch structures. This type of plant can reach a height of 250 cm and more in the course of many years, if it is given a good location.

Peony shrub with pink flowers
Tree peonies are actually shrubs and can grow up to 250 cm tall [Photo: ajisai13/ Shutterstock.com]

Itoh peonies are a small botanical sensation, as these are a cross between species of perennial and tree peony. This breeding form has existed since the middle of the 20th century thanks to the Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh, but has only been known in Germany for about two decades. Over time, there have been other breeds of this species, so now they offer a whole range of plants that bloom in different colours, grow very compact and have a particularly long flowering time. The hybrids lignify exclusively at the base and often bear very attractive foliage combined with the rather compact growth typical of perennial peonies.

Peony flowering times

The flowering times of peonies are generally between mid-April and the end of June. The following portraits of the plants are intended to give you a first larger overview and at the same time also present the respective individuals with their growth, flowering and other characteristics on a smaller scale, so that you can make the right choice at the plant dealer.

The flowering times of the peonies in this article are divided as follows:

  • very early = between mid and late April
  • early = between late April and mid May
  • mean = between mid and late May
  • late = between late May and mid June
  • very late = between mid and late June

Perennial peonies

Perennial peonies are among the most popular and hardy plants for your garden. They also like to remain in a location that suits their needs without being replanted more frequently afterwards. They come in many colour variations – with and without fragrance, as well as different growth heights. In the following paragraphs, you will learn everything you need to know about perennial peonies.

Wild perennial peony species

No other wild plant, apart from the tree peony, produces such large flowers as the perennial peony. The colourful calyxes of these individuals can grow up to 15 cm across and therefore deserve a place in the sun. Wild forms of the herbaceous peony are native to the slopes of the Caucasus, the Urals, the Himalayas and also the Atlas Mountains in Algeria and Morocco. The European species are now almost extinct and are only found in the southern regions of the Alps and in parts of Siberia.

The following representatives of wild peonies are particularly attractive:

  • Wild Peony (Paeonia officinalis): Reaches a height of 50 cm; white-pink flower, 7 – 9 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is very early to early.
  • Coral peony (Paeonia mascula subsp. arietina): Reaches a height of 60 cm; white-pink to crimson flower, 10 – 12 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is very early to early.
  • Greek peony (Paeonia peregrina): Reaches a height of 70 – 100 cm; red flower, 7 – 11 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is early.
exotic peony with red flower
Exotic peonies, which are also known as Balkan peonies, flaunt deeply red flowers [Photo: Oliver Tackenberg/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Balkan peony, dill peony (Paeonia tenuifolia): Reaches a height of 30 – 40 cm; red flower, 5 – 7 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is very early.
  • Yellow Caucasus peony (Paeonia mlokosevichii): Reaches a height of 50 cm; yellow flower, 10 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is very early.
  • Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 50 – 60 cm; white or pink flower, 7 – 10 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is late.

Historical perennial types of peonies

These peony varieties, created in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are far from being as present today as they were in those days. However, they are as indispensable as the historical roses, which with their beauty and fragrance remain unrivalled. Unfortunately, a disadvantage lies in the handling, because their flower stalks often can not support the large flower head. Therefore, for the most part, historical perennial peonies need a solid support. The majority of known and traded perennial peonies can be traced back to the species Paeonia lactiflora.

The following varieties will do particularly well in your garden:

  • Duchesse de Nemours‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 80 – 100 cm; white flower, 13 cm flower diameter, fresh fragrance with lemon notes; flowering time is late.
  • Festiva Maxima‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 80 cm; white flower, 12 cm flower diameter, very good typical peony fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • Karl Rosenfield‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches 70 cm in height; red flower, 14 cm flower diameter, delicate, spicy fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • Sarah Bernhardt‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches 95 cm in height; pink flower, 16 – 20 cm flower diameter, strong fragrance; flowering time is late.
  • Kingswinter‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches 65 cm in height; white-purple flower, 14 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is late with rebloom.
  • Schwindt‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches 95 cm in height; carmine-pink flower, 14 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is medium to late.
  • Wiesbaden‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 80 cm; pink nuanced flower, 13 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is late.
pink chinese peony flower
The flowers of the chinese peony may grow so large that they need additional support to keep upright

Japanese perennial peonies

The plants of this group have a very unique flower shape and were largely bred in Japan. The stamens of these varieties have been transformed by breeding and selection into petals, bands or filaments (petaloids) that fill the inside of the flower. In Japan, this peony flower was also called imperial flower (emperor flower). Another peculiarity is that the colour of the petals often differs from that of the centre. At the beginning of the 20th century, this cultivar also reached America, whereupon within a short period of time, numerous American cultivars with the Japanese characteristics were created.

The following varieties were particularly popular:

  • Bowl of Beauty‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 65 cm; old pink flower with light yellow filling, 15 – 16 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is late.
  • Neon‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 90 cm; pink-purple flower with red filling, 12 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is late.
  • Sword Dance‘ (Paeonia lactiflora): Reaches a height of 70 cm; garnet red flower with crimson pink filling, 14 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is very late.
pink bowl of beauty peony
The ‘Bowl of Beauty’ peony displays pink flowers filled with dainty white petals [Photo: Oleg1824/ Shutterstock.com]

Tree peonies

There are about 1,000 varieties of tree peonies, as well as a few different species that have a shrubby growth. However, most varieties of tree peonies available commercially belong to the species Paeonia suffruticosa. Central features of tree peonies are often tall growth and their sturdy flower stalks.

Wild tree peony species

The plants presented here are most relevant to today’s breeding of tree peonies and have their natural home in China. In stores, they can be purchased as one to four-year-old plantlets.

  • Paeonia rockii: Reaches a height of 150 – 200 cm; single to double white or pink flower with dark basal spots, to about 20 cm flower diameter, light fragrance; flowering time is early; perhaps better known to some as Paeonia suffruticosa rockii.
  • Paeonia delavayi: Reaches a height of 150 – 200 cm; mahogany to orange-red flower, up to 8 cm flower diameter, lily fragrance.
  • Paeonia ludlowii: Reaches a height of 180 – 250 cm; yellow flower with a diameter of 5 – 8 cm, without fragrance; flowering time is late to very late.
  • Paeonia lutea: Reaches a height of 100 cm; yellow flower with a diameter of 5 – 6 cm, lemon fragrance; flowering time is late.

Tree peonies: Paeonia suffruticosa

This variant can also be called the historical tree peonies, as some varieties of this group are already several centuries old. Both the Chinese and Japanese and the old European varieties belong to this group. The tall growth and bright green to bright green leaves occur here in all peonies. We often talk of Paeonia suffruticosa hybrids, because the genetic identity of other peony species has already been incorporated, but the crossing partners can no longer be clearly identified.

The following plants will enrich any private garden:

  • Hana Kisoi‘ (Paeonia x suffruticosa): Reaches a height of 150 – 200 cm; pink shaded flower, 20 cm flower diameter, fragrant; flowering time is early.
  • Higurashi‘ (Paeonia x suffruticosa): Reaches 130 cm in height; dark, old pink flower, 16 – 18 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is early.
  • Shimadaijin‘ (Paeonia x suffruticosa): Reaches a height of 150 cm; red-purple flower, 18 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is early.
two pink suffruticosa peony flowers
Paeonia suffruticosa can be called historical [Photo: Nick Pecker/ Shutterstock.com]

Peonies: hybrid varieties

Peony hybrids are the product of crossing two different Paeonia species. Depending on the genetic similarity, a cross between two different species may be more or less successful. In peonies, combinations of varieties of different Paeonia species are conceivable. In general, however, the goal is to combine the characteristics of the parents in the descendant hybrid generation.

Perennial peony hybrid

Modern peony hybrids are usually characterised by good stability and early flowering compared to the historical, classic perennial peonies. The latter is usually four to six weeks before the usual start of flowering for Lactiflora peonies. Perennial peony hybrids come in many varieties from white to pink to dark red and yellow and likewise with open, semi-double or double flowers.

The following hybrids are particularly attractive:

  • Carina‘ (Paeonia x hybrida): Reaches a height of 70 cm; scarlet flower, 14 – 17 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • Coral Charm‘ (Paeonia x hybrida): Reaches 80 cm in height; coral pink flower, 18 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • Cytherea‘ (Paeonia lactiflora x Paeonia peregrina): Reaches a height of 50 cm; raspberry red flower, 16 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is early.
  • Paula Fay‘ (Paeonia x hybrida): Reaches a height of 50 cm; candy pink flower, 12 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is early.
  • Roselette‘ (Paeonia x hybrida): Reaches a height of 70 cm; pink flower, 9 cm flower diameter, delicate fragrance; flowering time is early.

Tree peony hybrids

These hybrids resulted from the cross between the noble Suffruticosa cultivars with the wild species Paeonia delavayi, Paeonia lutea and Paeonia rockii. The growth of these hybrids is delayed by about three weeks compared to the classic tree peonies.

  • Black Pirate‘ (Paeonia lutea x Paeonia delavayi): Reaches a height of 90 – 120 cm; dark red flower, 15 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • High Noon‘ (Paeonia lutea x Paeonia delavayi): Reaches a height of 150 cm; yellow flower with red basal spots, 10 cm flower diameter, without fragrance; flowering time is late.
  • Souvenir du Maxime Cornu‘ (also: ‘Kinkaku’, Paeonia suffruticosa x Paeonia lutea): Reaches a height of 150 cm; yellow flower with orange edge, 16 cm flower diameter, lovely fragrance; flowering time is medium.
  • Tria‘ (Paeonia lutea x hybrid): Reaches a height of 150 cm; yellow flower, 10 cm flower diameter, lovely fragrance; flowering time is early to medium.
yellow 'High Noon' peony flower
The flowers of the hybrid peony ‘High Noon’ span 10 cm in diameter [Photo: Del Boy/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: The later flowering time of these hybrids is suitable for extending the overall flowering time of tree peonies.

Itoh hybrids: intersectional peony hybrids

The so-called Itoh peonies are a real speciality, namely hybrids between perennial and tree peonies (Paeonia lactiflora x Paeonia lutea, synonym: Paeonia x itoh). These intersectional crosses combine the evergreen and flower size of the tree peony with the compact growth and hardiness of the perennial forms. The crosses of the Itoh group were named in honour of their discoverer, the Japanese Toichi Itoh.

  • Bartzella‘: Yellow Itoh hybrid with internal red basal spot; maximum growth height 100 cm; very popular, but also expensive.
  • Cora Louise‘: Creamy-whitish with purple eye; loose growth; reaches 100 cm height of growth.
  • Love Affair‘: Pure white flower; semi-double flower at late bloom.
  • Old Rose Dandy‘: Changeable flower colour from light beige to intense purple with all levels in between; semi-double flower; 70 to 80 cm growing height.
  • Red Double Seedling‘: Intense dark red flower; partly double with medium bloom; up to 80 cm tall.
  • Scarlet Heaven‘: Red bright flower; maximum 80 cm high with very bushy habit.

Learn more about properly planting your peonies here in our dedicated article.

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