Blue Peonies

Yearning for a blue peony flower? Unearth the truth behind the mysterious blue peony.
By: Julie A Martens
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Botanical Names: Paeonia, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa)

Grow peonies long enough, and you’ll start to crave a blue peony flower to round out your collection. While you may spy a plant that’s being sold a blue peony at discount stores or online auctions, pause before purchasing. The plants known as blue peonies tend toward a lavender-pink hue, not true blue.

In the botanical world, plants referred to as blue frequently open blossoms in purple shades. In peonies, the pigment responsible for producing blue is less pronounced and in many cases lacking. A blue peony flower is more likely to come about through a mutation in the plants’ genes. This would most likely occur through a plant virus. A similar situation occurs in tulips, where a virus causes gene mutations that produce petal streaking in some varieties.

If you search for blue peonies, you’ll find that most blue varieties occur in tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). The tree peony group contains more of the blue pigmentation, but it usually expresses as a pale or deep lavender pink blend that’s referred to as purple. Some purple tree peonies have pale petals with purple flares at the base of petals toward the center of the bloom.

You may see a Japanese tree peony for sale known as ‘Sapphire’. This is a tree peony that opens double blooms—each flower has layers of petals that create a full, lush look. ‘Sapphire’ peony is also known as ‘Lan Boa Shi’, which is the original Japanese and is translated as either “blue jewel” or “blue sapphire.” These blue peonies open blossoms that are pink-lavender in hue, with deeper burgundy flares at the base of petals. It’s nowhere near a traditional blue hue.

Many times a peony-flowered tulip is showcased and mislabeled as a blue peony in online auctions. These flowers often feature shades of lavender or purple, despite having names like ‘Blue Wow’ or ‘Blue Spectacle’. To avoid being deceived into buying the wrong plant, be sure to read carefully and even inquire about how the plant grows. If it’s said to grow from a bulb, that’s not a true peony. Peonies grow from tubers or enlarged roots that are similar to a potato. Both peonies and peony-flowered tulips are planted in fall, so don’t rely on planting window as a clue to whether or not you’re dealing with a true peony or a spring-flowering tulip.

There’s almost a blue peony legend that’s developed around the name of ‘Blue Lagoon’ peony. ‘Blue Lagoon’ is marketed as a blue peony and may even have a pot label that shows a blue flower (likely a peony flowered tulip). Use care when buying these blue peonies. Despite what any picture shows, you’re likely getting a lavender-pink flower, and it may be more pink than lavender.

Many gardeners report that when purchasing multiple blue peonies online, each plant often opens a different colored flower. This can add a little adventure to your garden, as long as you were not counting on similar colors. Until plant breeding advances occur, there’s only one way to get a true blue peony, and that’s as a silk flower.

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