Purple Peonies

Count on purple peonies to bring eye-catching hues to the garden.
By: Julie A Martens

Botanical Names: Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora), Paeonia, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa)

Discover the exquisite beauty of purple peonies. This group of peonies includes both Chinese types (Paeonia lactiflora), Japanese hybrids (Paeonia hybrids) and tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). The hints and tints of purple in the peony world aren’t the typical shades you might dream up when you think of purple. Instead, purple peonies fall more along the lines of lavender, lavender-pink and purple tinged reds.

In the botanical world, flower colors don’t always mimic those you learn in elementary school courtesy of the crayon box. It’s important to understand these color shifts when you’re shopping for plants. In the case of peonies, purple varieties frequently carry tints of red, lavender and pink.

‘Adolphe Rousseau’ Chinese peony flowers early in the peony season, opening purple-red flowers packed with petals. Many gardeners grow it specifically for using in bouquets. It’s frequently listed in the purple peonies category in nurseries, as is the Japanese tree peony ‘Kokuryu Nishiki’. This beauty translates to the name Black Dragon Brocade. The blooms feature dark maroon-purple petals surrounding a gold center. A light and spicy fragrance exudes from the oversize flowers. Petals have white markings along edges underneath that resembles exquisite embroidery, like brocade cloth.

Purple peonies also often showcase shades of light purple and pink, with flower petals displaying a lavender hue suffused with pink tones. ‘First Arrival’ is an Itoh peony that opens semi-double blooms in lavender pink. The ruffled petals lay back to display a bright gold center of frilly stamens. The entire flower measures 6 to 8 inches across.

Another lavender pink peony that’s classified in the purple peonies group is ‘Sebastian Maas’, which opens lightly fragrant flowers. This purple peony produces many side buds on stems that mature to fully open blooms, which give this beauty a long flowering window. The Chinese peony ‘Lilac Time’ unfurls frilly blossoms in shades of lavender pink. The flower form is unusual and makes a wonderful addition to a garden or fresh cut peony bouquet.

‘Yagumo’ Japanese tree peony reveals semi-double flowers with wonderfully layered petals that unfurl to reveal a deep gold center. The petals offer a rich purple pink hue, and outer ones are rimmed with ivory. The name ‘Yagumo’ means “layered clouds,” which describes the intricate arrangement of petals in this beauty.

For many tree peonies, purple appears inside the blossoms, in flares at the base of petals. These boldly tinted flares contrast with the petal shade and the flower’s gold center. An example is the tree peony ‘Zephyrus’, which opens a pale, lavender pink flower with dark maroon-purple flares.

The famous tree peony from Tibet, ‘Joseph Rock’, accents snowy white petals with deep purple flares. This classic peony also brings a strong fragrance to the garden. In ‘Guardian of the Monastery’ tree peony, large, deep purple flares on blossoms contrast artfully with pale lavender pink petals.

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