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Botanical herbaceous peony species grow in Europe, Asia and North America. Tree peony species are found in Asia. Peonies thrive in a temperate climate. They need a serious spell of cold weather and frost to induce flowering the following spring.
In Europe, the "officinalis" peonies are found from the Mediterranean Sea to the Alps. In Asia, a vast selection of species is present between the Himalayas and the Chinese coast. In North America, botanical species can be found along the Pacific Coast.

An herbaceous peony has no wooden stems and is a perennial. New shoots reappear each spring and grow into a large bush. The stems disintegrate in autumn, and in winter the peony retires underground.
Tree peonies have a wooden structure similar to a shrub. They generally bloom earlier than their herbaceous cousins. New varieties have the benefit of stronger stems. Flowers are carried above the foliage, and are better positioned than the classic varieties.
An Itoh or intersectional peony is a cross between a tree and an herbaceous peony. The foliage and flowers reveal their tree peony ancestry. Their growth pattern, however, is similar to the herbaceous peony. Foliage remains healthy until the first frost. The Itoh peony is an asset for every garden.


The peony's broad botanical background has provided growers and breeders with a vast range of possibilities throughout the ages. Tree and herbaceous peonies have been cultivated in China and Japan for more than 2000 years. The first lactiflora peonies were imported to Europe as early as 1548*, followed by the tree peonies around 1789*.

Hybridising was at its peak in France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, around the 19th and mid 20th century. Hybridisers in North America took over, aiming for more elegant and natural growing varieties. In Japan however the foundation was laid for a new hybrid: the creation of a more floriferous, stronger, and scented peony. Toichi Itoh crossed a tree and herbaceous peony, thus creating the peony of the 21
st century. Unfortunately Mr. Itoh never saw his first cross bloom.

*From: "Garden Paeonies by James Kelway 1954"
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