Field of Science

Yellow Moutan (tree) Peony

The combined demands of gardening and field work often do not leave me with enough time to "smell the roses" especially in May. After a Sunday of garden toil, it only seemed fitting to devote the cocktail hour to enjoying the fruits of all this labor. The shrubs on the far side of the lily pond were alive with migrant birds (redstart, chesnut-sided warbler, orioles, scarlet tanager), and the late afternoon sun often illuminates portions of our gardens with long, low rays.

And there, in quite lovely lighting, was a yellow Moutan peony. After discovering this plant quite by accident many years ago, tree peonies have become quite a favorite of mine. Paeonia suffruticosa is a shrubby plant with big dark green compound leaves and large flowers of diverse colors. Tree peonies often have flowers 7-8 inches in diameter. Although they do not have the biggest flowers, the yellow-flowered ones remain special, probably because yellow-flowered varieties have been absent (until very recently) among standard herbaceous peonies. My other tree peonies have flowers ranging from white across several shades of pink, pale pink, coral, red, to purple, but as if not wanting to be common, the yellow ones always flower later, after the others are nearly done. The flower pictured is about 5 inches across. The flowers only last for 5-7 days, typical enough of flowering trees and shrubs, all of which have brief bursts of reproductive glory. So it is important to take enough time to appreciate these sunlit little suns during their annual display.

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