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Peonies, singularly referred to as the peony and botanically known as Paeonia, must have cool enough weather to maintain dormancy for about 60 days. After a good chilly winter, they can handle a wide range of temperatures.
Peonies can be divided into two main types: the tree peony, which is deciduous and maintains a woody structure, and the herbaceous peony, which is a perennial. Herbaceous peonies may live for an impressive 25-50 years. They are tough plants, and can be lifted and divided when dormant, but take care not to break the large tuberous roots, which store food.
Herbaceous peonies have started flowering in the lower botanic garden's camellia collection. After flowering, several species develop ornamental seed, showing off contrasting plump, shiny black fertilised seed alongside the wrinkly, shocking-pink unviable seed. Over autumn the foliage displays tints of green, red and copper.
Many herbaceous peonies are bred from the Chinese Paeonia lactiflora. These develop vigorously in spring, with reddish young growth. Flowers range in colour from white to pink and red to maroon, sometimes with basal colouring. They are also often fragrant.
Herbaceous peonies make excellent cut flowers, showing off their glamour and luxuriousness indoors. They can be cut when buds are just opening.
Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information, contact Marianne Groothuis.