In the 19th century many peonies were bred in France and the UK, whilst the center of peony hybridizing was to be found in the USA during the 20th century. It didn’t all stop in Europe however. Here’s an older article about Lithuanian peonies where the hybridizer herself tells about her work. Her varieties may be somewhat difficult to find, but you can see some available from Liga Popova’s/Janis Ruksans’ catalogue.

PEONIES IN LITHUANIA (by Ona Skeiviene, Kaunas Botanical Gardens)1

Peonies are not native to Lithuania. They have been introduced from other countries and are extensively grown in gardens, parks, city planting and in various collections of botanical gardens. Eight different species are commonly grown in Lithuania.

P. anomala L. Native to the European part of USSR, Western and Eastern Siberia, Central Asia, Mongolia. Plants are 60-90 cm high, herbaceous, one blossom on a stem. Leaves are twice three-lobed, upper side along larger veins slightly hairy, undersides smooth. Flowers purplish red, 8 cm diameter, fragrant. Seedpods 5, generally hairy, reflexed. Seed round, black. Blooms in May- June. Grows well in light soils. Hardy. The roots of this variety in Western Siberia at one time were used as spice with meat and in folk medicine for epilepsy, gout, rheumatism, cough and various stomach/intestinal disorders.

P. masculata (L.) Mill. (syn. P. corallina Retz.). [now P. mascula, kh] Native to S. Europe, Middle East, Cyprus and Sicily. Plants 60-90 cm high, herbaceous, stems smooth, one blossom on a stem. Anthocyanin present in stems and leaves gives the plant a specific colouring. Leaves twice, sometimes thrice three-lobes. Flowers purple, sometimes whitish or yellowish, 9-11 cm. diameter. Seedpods 5, arranged in a star shape or sometimes reflexed. Seed round, red when not fully ripe, later black. Blooms in May-June. Easily withstands low temperatures. Grows well in various soils, in a sunny or semi-sunny location.

P. lactiflora Pall. (syn. P. albiflora Pall., P. Chinensis hort.). Native to E. Siberia, Far East, Mongolia, Japan, China. Plant herbaceous, stems smooth, with 2 or several blossoms, 60-100 cm high. Leaves twice three-lobed. Flowers white, pleasantly scented, up to 10 cm. diameter. Seedpods 3-6, at first straight, later hooked. Seed oval, black. Blooms in June. Hardy.

P. lutea Delavay ex Franch. Native to China. Plant with semi- woody stems, 70 – 130 cm. high, grows like a shrub. Leaves grayish green, leathery, deeply lobed. Flowers yellow, 10 cm. diameter, fragrant. Seedpods 2-4. Seed black. Blooms in May-June. Needs winter protection . Very resistant to disease, grows well in all types of soil.

P. officinalis L. Native to Europe. Plants herbaceous, up to 50-80 cm. high, one blossom to a stem. Leaves twice three-lobed, upper side dark green, bottom side lighter. Flowers dark red, wide open, 10-12 cm. diameter, non-fragrant. Blooms in May.

P. peregrina Mill. (syn. P. decora Andr.). Native to Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Middle East. Plants herbaceous, one flower to a stem, up to 80 cm. high. Leaves twice three-lobed. Flowers purple, 7-11 cm. diameter. Seed oval, shiny, bluish-black. Blooms in May-June. This is a good decorative peony which grows well with minimum of attention in various soils and even in half shade. Hybridizes very easily.

P. suffruticosa Andr. (syn. P. arborea Donn., P. moutans Sims.). Native to China. Stems woody, upright, sparingly branching, 50-150 cm high. Leaves long-stemmed, twice three-lobed, undersides grey-green. Flowers grow singly on the tips of branches, 10-15 cm diameter, white, pinkish-red, with large, darker spot in the center. Seedpods 5, arranged in a star shape, hairy. Seed large, black. Blooms in May. Overwinters with light protection.

P. tenuifolia L. Native to the Southern part of European USSR, Caucasus, Middle Europe, Balkans, Middle East. Plants herbaceous, one flower on a stem, sometimes two, foliage dense, plant up to 60 cm height. Leaves twice or thrice three-lobed or thrice feathery, divided into very narrow, parallel sections. Flowers dark purple or dark red, 8-10 cm. diameter. Seedpods 2-3, rarely 4-5, covered with reddish hair. Seed dark brown, shiny. Blooms in April – May. Plants multiply easily by seed, are long lived and hardy.

The hybridizing of peony in Lithuania was begun by Mrs. Ona Skeiviene in 1947 at the Kaunas Botanical Gardens. For this work an existing collection of P. lactiflora of 42 varieties at the Kaunas Botanical Gardens was used. Main objective of hybridizing was to develop disease resistant varieties that are hardy and highly decorative. For this purpose cross-breeding and selection was the method used.

The hybridizing of P. lactiflora followed this scheme; 1. Initial seedling beds, 2. Selected seedling beds, 3. Control beds, 4. Initial trials of varieties, 5. Competitive trials of varieties, 6. Trials of promising new varieties and their examination under commercial/production situations.

New varieties that proved themselves under all 6 counts were named and released for final testing to the State Varieties Testing Commission. This way during the 21 years (1947-1968) hybridizing P. lactiflora, six new varieties were named and released for testing to the State Varieties Testing Commission. Some varieties are not released yet and are numbered 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 21, 23. Following are the descriptions of the six varieties that have been released for testing.

‘Darius Girenas’ (1947). P. lactiflora ‘Germaine Bigot x Madame Calot’. Flowers light pink, double, 15 cm. diameter, pleasantly fragrant. Blooms first part of June. Plants are resistant to disease, 100 cm. high. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

‘Freda’ (1947). P. l. ‘Auguste Dessert’ X ‘Parette’. Flowers whitish pink, 14 cm. diameter, semi-double, fragrant. Blooms beginning of June. There are 5 – 7 blossoms on a stem. Disease resistant, luxuriant growth, 100 cm. high. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

‘Garbe Motinai’ (1947). ,P. l. ‘Pierre Recanoux’ X ‘Germaine Bigot’. Flowers pink with violet blush, double, 18-20 cm. diameter, very pleasantly fragrant. Blooms in mid-June. Plant luxuriant, with large leaves, 100 cm. high. Variety resistant to disease, hardy. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

Prof. K. Grybauskas (image from Liga Popova’s/Janis Ruksans catalogue

‘Prof. K. Grybauskas’ (1947). P. l. ‘General MacMahon’ X ‘Parette’. Flowers red, with white edging, double, 16 cm. diameter, fragrant. Blooms in June-July. Resistant to disease. Plant luxuriant, well formed, 100 cm. high. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

‘Skeivienes Velyvasis’ (1947). P. l. ‘Eugene Verdier’ X ‘Germaine Bigot’. Flowers double, rosy pink, 14 cm. diameter, pleasantly fragrant. Blooms in June-July. Plant luxuriant, 100 cm. high. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

‘Virgilijus’ (1947). P. l. ‘Pierre Recanoux’ X ‘Auguste Dessert’. Flowers reddish, single, 18 cm. diameter. Blooms beginning of June. Plant well formed, luxuriant, 100 cm. high. Variety released for State testing in 1969.

All of the above varieties of P. lactiflora lend themselves well to individual or group planting or for commercial flower production. Cut flowers hold well in transport and remain decorative for a long time.

  1. Skeiviene, Ona. “Peonies in Lithuania”. In: The American Peony Society Bulletin, 1975, no. 214, June, pp. 38-41.[]

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