Bearing stronger stems -- and often larger flowers -- than their more common shrub cousins, tree peonies look like royalty in the flower world. Most varieties are hardy in Zones 4-8, reach 6 feet tall and wide (or so), and grow best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. They don't typically require pruning, but if it becomes necessary to control their size, the best time to do it is spring, right after they finish flowering.
Check out this presentation of some of tree peony expert Lee Gratwick's favorite varieties.
Deserving of its name, which translates as 'Floral Rivalry', this tree peony blossoms into a nest of prom-pink, crepe paperlike petals that blush darker toward the flower's heart.
With fervent flowers like no other tree peony, 'Impumon' tends to remain modest in stature, but its throbbing red petals can't help but turn heads. Lee Gratwick likes to call the color "true red." It's a hue rarely seen in the perennial garden.
Each petal on this Japanese tree peony has a crinkled, wavy edge, giving it depth and volume. Pale pink at the tips, the petals darken to a glowing raspberry toward the central nest of stamens.
This Japanese tree peony opens its immense, luminous, pure snow white single blossoms to reveal a heart of gold stamens. It glows at dusk.
One of the original American tree peonies, the pale flaxen yellow petals of this A.P. Saunders hybrid are streaked with reddish flares in the center to give it depth and individuality.
Beautiful in its tightly knit growth habit, the finely cut, lacy foliage of 'Chinese Dragon' blushes bronze. Rather than contrasting the flowers, the leaves accent the single sunset-pink flowers.
Extremely floriferous and striking for the contrast between its apple green leaves and red blossoms, the 'Black Pirate' flowers are darkest burgundy.
Illustrating how beautifully tree peonies can merge into any garden scene, 'Thunderbolt' sends a clap of deep burgundy into its surroundings. This tree peony is known for its floriferous nature.
With a flair for names, tree peony breeder William Gratwick III created a group of trees unlike anything grown before. This early-blooming single has palest pink blooms with red flares in the heart -- typical of his genius.
Like tattered butterfly wings, each petal of this profuse blooming hybrid by William Gratwick III has deeply cut edges. The petals are creamy pink near the tattered edges but burn darker as they approach the heart.
Lee Gratwick saved many seedlings with alarmingly beautiful flowers. This Chugai seedling was never named, but its immense stems bear tissue-thin pink flowers.
Tree peony breeder Nassos Daphnis named hybrids for Greek gods as well as painters. He felt that this hybrid, with its pink netting overlaying yellow petals, was reminiscent of French painter Paul Gauguin's palette.
Named for the god of the underworld, this tree's deep red was the darkest color that tree peony breeder Nassos Daphnis achieved. Daphnis wrote that when the light hits the petals, the effect is reminiscent of stained glass.
This cheerful pink Nassos Daphnis hybrid has become one of the most popularly grown tree peonies in the United States. A vigorous grower and prolific bloomer, its flower coloration is typical of the many nuanced hues achieved by Daphnis.
Named for the Greek god of fire, 'Hephestos' is a smoldering brick red with frilly blossoms against green, deeply serrated leaves.
With buttery-yellow, open-face blossoms, 'Tria' opens early in the season, but this Nassos Daphnis hybrid is so floriferous that it continues into midseason.
What Nassos Daphnis achieved when he worked with tree peonies was a combination of colors in each petal. Midseason-blooming 'Oread' is a good example, with chiffon-pink petals overcast with blush red.
Nassos Daphnis named this vigorous tree peony with light green foliage for the Greek poetess. He described the single flowers as purple verging on red -- as the light moves through the day, the petals reveal both shades.
This glowing tree peony blossoms in a paler shade of daybreak yellow than Nassos Daphnis' hybrid 'Demetra', earning it the name 'Light Demetra'.
Nassos Daphnis called this "the most unusual flower" after creating the fragrant bloomer named for dancer Isadora Duncan. Yellow with a red overcast and a burgundy heart, the flower changes hues as it matures.