F.C. Stern A Study of the Genus Paeonia

Section Moutan Subsection Vaginatae

suffruticosa group.—The famous tree paeonies of China and Japan were first made known to Europe through Chinese drawings brought back to Europe and through the great praises bestowed upon the Moutan, as it was called, by missionaries and others who had been in China. Sir Joseph Banks about 1786 engaged a Mr. Duncan, a medical man attached to the East India Company, to procure a plant for the Royal Gardens at Kew. It was received at Kew in 1787. Sir Joseph Banks is said to have planted in 1789 a tree paeony at Spring Grove, Isleworth, within ten miles of London, which later was called Paeonia Moutan var. Banksia, and this plant in 1825 was about 8 ft. high and about 10 ft. in diameter. In 1802 Sir Abraham Hume imported another plant to his place, Wormley Bury, Herts, and this by 1835 had grown into a bush 14 ft. in diameter, which bore three hundred and twenty flowers.

Fortune (1880), one of the first English collectors in China, wrote an article about these plants in the Gardeners' Chronicle, vol. 1, page 179.

These beautiful plants have been known in gardens in China since the earliest times, but it was never definitely known where the original wild plants came from. There was talk in China that the wild tree-paeony was to be found on a mountain called "Moutan." Bretschneider (1898) states that according to a Chinese description of the province of Shensi, published about 1698, there was in the district of Han Ch'eng, between 35° and 36° N. lat., a hill called Moutan Shan, where the Moutan grew in great -profusion in a wild state, colouring the whole hill red with bloom in spring and scenting the air around. W. Purdom explored these districts about 1912 but failed to find any trace of the wild paeony there.

The first suggestion of the discovery of a wild P. suffruticosa was made by Brühl (1896) when he described a specimen collected at Tukchang near Chumbi, north of India, by Dr. King's [end page 15] collector in 1884. He says, “there appears to be no doubt about it growing wild in the Chumbi Hills.” This specimen is numbered 549. In 1906 another specimen was collected by J.C. White’s collector at Llohung (?) in Tibet; this place cannot be traced but might be meant for Lhalung, where J.C.White left his native collector. These places are on the border of Tibet and Sikkim and Bhutan. Specimen No. 549 was originally described on the sheet as P.Moutan var. Hemsleyana King, but this was changed by Brühl, who thought it represented the wild form of P.Moutan and named it P.Moutan ssp. atava. Both the specimens are of the type of the garden their smaller leaves and flowers. There is a doubt whether they were not grown in or around some monastery garden.

Then Reginald Farrer, who collected in western China in 1913, records in his own characteristic way in the Gardeners' Chronicle of September 26, 1914, and also in his book, "On the Eaves of the world," how he found on the hill-sides in southern Kansu a wild tree-paeony with large white flowers, "each stainless petal flamed at the base with a clean and definite feathered blotch of maroon," but unfortunately he did not collect specimens. Farrer goes on to say that Purdom found a more bushy form with "dark and rich magenta crimson" flowers. Purdom brought home dried specimens of this plant, collected by him in Shensi in 1910, which were named by Rehder (1920) P.suffruticosa var. spontanea.

In the Paris and Kew herbaria there are several other specimens which might be from wild plants; these were collected by Abbe R. P.Licent and A. E. Pratt—No. 5006, collected by R.P.Licent, 1922, in S.W. Kansu near Wang Lia Wan; No. 768, collected by A. E. Pratt near Tatsienlu; and No. 1909, collected by R. P.Licent in the mountains near Yu-hiang-hien '' in Shansi. Rock collected plants in Kansu and western China and some time after 1932 sent seed of a tree-paeony to the United States. Seedlings were raised by several growers in the U.S.A., in Canada, in Sweden and in Great Britain, which flowered in all these countries in 1938 and seemed very like the plant described by Andrews (1807) as P.papaveracea. Andrews described the sheath which entirely encloses the carpels as purple, while in Rock's plant the leathery sheath, which is an outgrowth from the disc, is white, also the leaves in Andrews' illustration seem to be larger.

Dr. Rock, in answer to my enquiries whether he had collected the seed from wild plants, August 24, 1938, from Yunnanfu :—

“The seed of the Paeonia about which you enquire I collected from plants which grew in the Yamen of the Choni Lamasery, elevation 8,500 ft., in S.W. Kansu. I occupied the Yamen in that Lamasery for about a year. In the court of the Yamen grew a very beautiful single-flowered Paeonia. There were no double-flowered ones, all were single. I remarked at the time that it looked to me like a wild species. The Lamas told me it came from Kansu, but whence, the exact locality, they did not know. I never came across it in a wild state. It had been kept for years in the Lamasery. I took a photo of it growing in the court and I enclose a copy with my compliments. The Lamasery has been entirely destroyed and the Lamas all killed in 1928 by the Mohammedans, so the plant does in all probability not exist any more as the entire Lamasery was burned to the ground."

It may be of interest to record that seed of this paeony has been sent back to Dr. Rock to China destroyed in the Lamasery at Choni.[end page 16]

That is all we know, so far about the different “wild” plants of P.suffruticosa. P.suffruticosa belongs to the subsection Vaginatae and is distinguished from the other plants in the section Moutan by the disc produced as a leathery sheath which at first completely envelops the carpels, by the lower leaves being bipinnate and by some hairs which are found on the underside and on the junction of the rachis and petioles.

The dried specimens enumerated may be divided into two varieties by the different shape of the leaves:

A.- P.suffruticosa with leaflets deeply and incisely divided and the apex of the lobes and teeth sharply acute.

B.- P.suffruticosa var. spontanea with leaflets more or less unequally trilobed, wit rounded and the apex of the teeth blunt.

The difference is quite obvious to the eye ; the sharp pointed and rather long lifter clearly from the blunt and rather stunted heart-shaped leaflets of B. P.suffruticosa A includes all the garden forms of Chinese and Japanese origin, la and papaveracea, Licent's No. 5006 and Pratt's No. 768, also Rock's paeony. suffruticosa var. spontanea and Licent's No. 1909.

This group of paeonies, as far as is now known, is found in the mountains of western China in the provinces of Kansu, Szechwan and Shensi. The variety atava has been found in sounthern Tibet and northern India, but the specimens may be escapes from monastery gardens. The provinces of Kansu, Szechwan and Shensi form one large mountainous district between and 110° and latitude 28° and 38°.

Major A. Pam, the present owner of Wormley Bury, Herts, has had a tree-paeony flowering in its garden which exactly represents the flower depicted by Andrews in the Botanical Repositary 7 63, in 1807, the sheath enclosing the carpels being purple. This plant, still grow: den of Wormley Bury in 1940, is no doubt either the remains of the original plant in Abraham Hume in 1802 or a layer or a seedling from it.

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