Turkey is one of the geographic centers of wild peonies. According to some estimates it boasts 11 different taxa, all situated in the herbaceous section of the genus. The ‘red peony of Constantinople’ is undoubtedly the best-known one. This peony, growing around the region of Istanbul (previously known as Constantinople/Byzantium) is the widespread species Paeonia peregrina. Peonies in Turkey are commonly known as Ayı Gülü, so a simple hashtag search on instagram will give you many images of peonies from that country. Most images will be of P. peregrina, P. turcica, P. arietina ssp arietina and P. mascula ssp mascula. The other taxa are more rare, more difficult to reach and thus less visited and photographed.
Whereas you can find good overviews of the peonies in Greece and Italy, two other peony species hotspots, it is more difficult to find this for Turkey, thus we thought it might be interesting to try doing this ourselves. For those that contemplate traveling in Spring in this vast country (783.562 km² which is twice Germany or 1/3 larger than Ukraine) here are thus some extra reasons to go 😉 Be prepared to climb quite a bit however, most peonies grow at higher altitudes in the mountains, often above 1000 m above sea level (asl). The list below gives an overview of the different taxa to be found in Anatolia. Some of these are endemic, meaning they only grow in Turkey and no other country: P. arietina ssp arasicola, P. x kayae, P. mascula ssp bodurii, P. mascula ssp orientalis and P. turcica.
|Location in Turkey
|Paeonia arietina ssp arietina
|Balıkesir, Kazdağı / Çanakkale, Kazdağı / Erzincan, Çağlayan / Tunceli, Munzur dağları, 1350 m /Giresun, Dereli / Gümüşhane, Kelkit / Malatya, Doğanşehir / Rize, İkizdere / Muş / Sivas, Zara, Armutçayırı köyü, Abdiağa Çeşmesi, 1600-1700 m
|Paeonia arietina ssp arasicola
|Afyonkarahisar, Afyon, Sultan Dağı, Dereçine Kasabası, Karaveli Tarlası Karşı tepeler 1400-1500 m / Bursa, Uludağ
|Paeonia arietina (?)
|Paeonia daurica ssp daurica
|Mersin, Tepeköy, Yaprakseki, Ayıgülü Kayası mevkii 1300 m / Ordu, Gölköy / Samsun
|Paeonia x kayae
|Çanakkale, Yenice, Kalkım, Aşağıçavuş village, Mursel district of Çanakkale province, 1000-1100 m
|Hatay, Yayladağı, Denizgören Köyü 1100 m / Osmaniye, Amanos Mountains
|Paeonia mascula ssp bodurii
|Çanakkale, Kalkım / Çanakkale, Lapseki, Beyçayırı Köyü, 600 m
|Paeonia mascula ssp mascula
|Afyonkarahisar, Sultandağı / Çanakkale, Kalkım, Aşağı Çavuş Köyü, Tombaklı, Suçıktığı ve Kocaçalı mevkiileri, 1000-1100 m / Gümüşhane, Torul / Isparta, Eğirdir / Konya, Doğanhisar / Kahramanmaraş, Andırın / Tunceli, Ovacık / Uşak, Banaz / Burdur, Bucak, Kuyubaşı, Karlık dağı
|Paeonia mascula ssp mascula (?)
|Paeonia mascula ssp orientalis
|Hatay, Dörtyol / Hatay, Yayladağı
|Balıkesir, Savaştepe / Bilecik / Bolu, Seben / Bolu, Göynük / Bursa, M.Kemalpaşa / Bursa, İznik / Bursa, Kestel / Çanakkale, Yenice / Çanakkale, Bayramiç / Çanakkale, Çan / Çanakkale, Lapseki, Beyçayırı Köyü, 600 m / Çanakkale, Gökçeada İmroz / Eskişehir, Mihalıççık / İstanbul, Şile / İstanbul, Çatalca / Kastamonu, Daday / Kırklareli, Dereköy / Kırklareli, Babaeski / Manisa / Yalova
|Edirne, Lalapaşa, Ortakça Köyü, 50 m
|Antalya, Elmalı, Beydağları / Antalya, Kemer, Hisarçandır Yaylası / Burdur, Gölhisar / Denizli, Acıpayam, Benlik Köyü, Bozdağı, Kabaçam mevkii, 1500-1600 m
|Paeonia daurica ssp macrophylla
|Rize, İkizdere, Cimil yolu, Şelale civarı 1300 m / Rize, Çamlıhemşin, around Yukari Amlakit Yaylasi, 2350 m
|Sources: Kaya, E. (1); Serpil Ünlü, & N. Özhatay(2) & personal communications with locals from Turkey.
For detailed descriptions of these species, we can easily refer to the species description on the site, but we must give some extra information because botanists tend to differ somewhat in the species classification. The table lists the species as we see them, neither following Hong nor Kaya. Paeonia arietina has no subspecies in the latest classification by Hong, but as there is a clear subspecies arasicola to be found in Turkey, this means that the remainder of P. arietina then becomes the subspecies arietina. In some older texts P. arietina ssp arasicola is mentioned as P. mascula ssp arasicola, but this is wrong because the root system corresponds to P. arietina and not P. mascula. Paeonia x kayae is a natural hybrid between P. arietina ssp arietina and P. mascula ssp bodurii. Paeonia turcica is regarded as different from Paeonia kesrouanensis by Turkish scientists, contrary to Hong’s classification, and they are probably right. Paeonia mascula ssp orientalis is the name given to species populations that have more and often divided leaflets compared to the usual P. mascula ssp mascula, not sure if this deserves its own subspecies label. P. daurica ssp macrophylla is often referred to as P. wittmanniana by Turkish scientists, which is wrong as that latter species does grow in Georgia and adjacent Russia, not Turkey. As to the two species populations with the question mark, we have no idea what they may be.
There is currently an ongoing scientific research project, conducted by Halbay Turumtay and Cemal Sandalli, where all known Turkish peony populations are sampled and compared to international DNA databases.(3) The results of that research are expected to be published early 2024, but some preliminary findings will be given with the species overview below. One of the unfortunate conclusions however is that some populations are under grave threat or already gone, sometimes due to road or building extensions, sometimes due to people removing the plants or flowering stems so that no seeds are produced.
As Türkiye is such a large country a map (or two maps actually) of the locations where they grow might come in handy:
What follows is a short description of each (sub-)species, but an image can say more than a thousand words so – when possible – we tried to add a good many images and videos to show them well. As Turkey has a population of some 85 million people and also attracts a lot of tourists, many images and videos of these showy flowers can be found.(4) If you’re looking for more images of Turkish peonies, the facebook group ‘Flora’, which is all about Turkish flora, is a good starting point.
P. arietina ssp arietina (tetraploid) is widely distributed in Northern Turkey and is the most common peony in the country. It is mostly distributed in Northern Turkey from West to East. It has pubescent green stems and petioles which set it apart from others. It has dark pink flowers, tomentose carpels and somewhat elongate leaflets numbering 9-13. Rather late flowering. It has been remarked by some people, and can be deducted from some images, that the populations more to the east in Turkey have finer leaflets, whilst in the west they are wider.
Those finer leaflets resemble P. officinalis (tetraploid) quite a lot. Both species are close to one another and some people had the idea that species might also grow in Turkey even though currently the closest known location to Turkey of that species is the Balkan. P. arietina can be recognized by the sepals always densely villose on the abaxial surface; stems and petioles always rather densely hirsute; leaflets/segments less than 32 in number, elliptic to oblong, 3–6 cm wide. P. officinalis on the other hand: sepals sparsely or densely hispidulous, or glabrous on the abaxial surface; stems and petioles sparsely hirsute or glabrous; leaflets/segments 15–41 in number, linear-elliptic to ovate-lanceloate, 1.5–5 cm wide.(5) The DNA research that sampled all populations has however found that they are all pure P. arietina and there is no P. officinalis in Turkey.
Paeonia arietina ssp arietina in Kaz Dagi, Balikesir/Cannakale Province (Western Turkey) – Video by Mustafa Şıvka on Instagram.
P. arietina ssp arasicola (tetraploid) is the same as P. arietina ssp arietina except for the all white or at most very pale pink flowers and is not yet described in English language literature. At first it was classified as a subspecies of P. mascula, but the roots are not carrot-shaped as in that species, but rather tuberous. The leaflet form, carpels and, most of all, the hirsute stems and petioles place it within P. arietina. The fact that all plants in these populations thus have white flowers make it a subspecies to P. arietina. It was only rather recently ‘discovered’ and is currently known from only two localities in Bursa (Uludag Mountains) and Afyonkarahisar (Sultandagi mountains), where it grows at around 1,500-2,000 m altitude in rocky places in forests of Fagus and Quercus. From DNA research again this species is identical to the usual dark flowered P. arietina and thus the only difference is the colour.
P. arietina ssp arasicola in Bursa, Turkey – Video by Adem Çevikbaş on Facebook.
Paeonia daurica ssp daurica (diploid) is a species with only 9 leaflets, tomentose carpels and usually somewhat rounded leaflets. P. daurica ssp daurica usually refers to the Crimean populations of this species with the conspicuous wavy leaflets, so perhaps the Turkish populations should have their own subspecies taxon. Not too many images of this species can be found as it is rather rare. It can be found in Mersin, Osmaniye and Samsun provinces.
This species is often confused with P. mascula ssp mascula, and sometimes it is not possible to relegate it to one of these two at all by means of simple observation. In P. daurica ssp daurica the best distinguishing feature is the number of leaflets on the lowest leaf because 95% of plants will have only 9 leaflets compared to P. mascula ssp mascula where 95% of plants will have 10 or more. Furthermore in P. daurica ssp daurica they are more rounded at the top and are somewhat shorter and wider compared to P. mascula ssp mascula. P. daurica ssp daurica is also usually pale pink, whilst P. mascula ssp mascula is mostly darker pink or red. The ploidy-level is also different as P. daurica ssp daurica is diploid and P. mascula ssp mascula tetraploid, but that is something which is not clear from casual observation of course. The DNA research project has found that there are only two Turkish species that are somewhat problematic when comparing them to international samples of the species and they are P. mascula (and subspecies) and P. daurica, for they don’t correspond exactly, so that might explain some of the difficulty of trying to classify them.
Most probably P. daurica ssp daurica in Isparta, Kesme Koyu – Video by Adem ÇEVİKBAŞ on YouTube. This population is probably officially marked as P. mascula ssp mascula, but the leaflets are more rounded and slightly wavy than we’d expect from that species and correspond more to P. daurica ssp daurica. The number of leaflets on the lowest leaf is hard to see in the video, with P. daurica it should be at most 9, very occasionally 10, and this seems to be the case. P. daurica is diploid, some reports in Turkish also give diploid for P. mascula, which is nowhere else confirmed. If both species are confused however, the error would be logical.
P. x kayae (tetraploid) is a natural hybrid between P. arietina ssp arietina and P. mascula bodurii. It is similar to subsp. bodurii, except that it is much bigger and has bicoloured flowers. As can be seen it is particularly attractive. As Paeonia mascula ssp bodurii only grows in Çanakkale province in North-Western Turkey, this hybrid can obviously be found only there as well. (7) The image shows a selection from the natural population of Paeonia x kayae, which received the cultivar name ‘Kaya’ and is being propagated by the Yalova Atatürk Central Research station. It has a single flower of dark pink upon white, with a slight fragrance and is very early blooming (first week of April). It also produces large quantities of seed.
Paeonia kesrouanensis (tetraploid) can only be found near the border with Syria, in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces. It is supposedly synonymous with P. turcica because the former discriminating feature, the length and curvation of the styles, seems insufficient to separate the species.(8) However, they do look quite different: P. kesrouanensis with pale green foliage from emerging, often flowering before the leaflets have fully grown and with pale pink flowers. Perhaps the leaf shape is also slightly different with this species having somewhat broader leaflets at the base compared to P. turcica, but that would need some further research.(9) They are easily separated from P. mascula by their glabrous carpels (the only other peonies in Turkey with glabrous carpels are P. turcica and P. daurica ssp macrophylla). The style and stigma itself are rather tall and smoothly follow the shape of the carpels, whereas in P. mascula ssp mascula they are short and the carpels end rather abruptly with the style and stigma sitting on top of it. In general, P. mascula will also have a larger number of carpels than P. kesrouanensis. If you would grow all Turkish species together in one place, this would be both the earliest flowering and tallest species (60-80 cm).
P. kesrouanensis in Osmaniye – Video by Mehmet Celik
Paeonia mascula ssp bodurii (tetraploid) is a species growing in North-Western Turkey, Çanakkale province at altitudes from 400 to 900 m, with very attractive white petals with sometimes a purplish base. It has dark green foliage consisting of only 9-11 leaflets which are rather large (13-18 cm long, 7-9 cm wide), the stems are pinkish and glabrous. It flowers very early in the season (April-May in Çanakkale) and is easy to grow. As such it would probably make a good garden plant for even beginning gardeners. It resembles the Greek subspecies P. mascula ssp hellenica somewhat although the latter has a higher number of leaflets, which are relatively narrower, and flowers about a week later when grown together. Subspecies bodurii is a rather recent addition to the list of known peony (sub)species, rather rare (only 4 known localities) and under constant threat from deforestation, building and illegal plant gatherings.(10)
P. mascula ssp mascula (tetraploid) is one of the most common peonies all over Europe. It is defined by 3-4 tomentose carpels, pink to red petals and a higher leaflet count of 9-18, with some populations that are characterised by the highest leaf numbers (12-18) referred to as P. mascula ssp orientalis,(12) although the difference may not be enough to warrant a separate subspecies status and DNA research shows that the difference is extremely small. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between this species and P. daurica ssp daurica. The difference between P. mascula ssp mascula and both P. kesrouanensis and P. turcica is rather easy when you look at the carpels with only P. mascula ssp mascula having tomentose ones.
P. mascula ssp mascula, Mugla, Marmaris – Video by Yörük Ali Demirtaş on YouTube. Compared to P. daurica ssp daurica, the species mascula has less rounded, more pointed and lengthier leaflets. The number of leaflets on each leaf is also higher (usually 11 and above, rarely less).
Paeonia mascula ssp mascula on Palamut Dağı, Marmaris, Turkey – Video by zeynepsoyer3
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Paeonia peregrina (tetraploid) is the best-known peony from Turkey. It mostly grows in North Western Turkey and is easily recognized. The shining red petals from the flowers that remain cup-shaped and never open widely are quite distinct, as are the conspicuously lobed leaflets. It is the latest flowering species in Turkey and can be found in different surroundings (both forests and grasslands) and altitudes (50-1,500 m).
Kızıl lale – Ayı gülü P. peregrina in Turkey – Video by İbrahim Sargın on YouTube. At 1:34 and further there’s a clear shot of this species.
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Paeonia tenuifolia (diploid) is probably the easiest species peony to recognize as it has the finest foliage (< 0.5 cm) of all peony species and the largest number of leaflets (40-130). It prefers sunny, dry habitats, unlike all other species of Turkey. It is both the shortest (<30 cm) and the only lowland (50 m asl) species of Turkey. Remarkably it can only be found in the European part of Turkey where its distribution goes further into Bulgaria, Romania and former Yugoslavia. ‘Remarkably’ because it can also be found in the Caucasus and Crimea, but thus not in between those two places in Turkey.
Paeonia turcica (tetraploid) can be found in Burdur, Denizili and Antalya and, as that region is a magnet for tourists, many images of it can be found on social media. It resembles P. kesrouanensis in its glabrous carpels, but has reddish foliage upon emerging and the flowers are usually much darker pink towards red. The supposed difference of the style length and place where it curves are insufficient to discriminate between them. Whilst they are surely very close to one another, the ‘average’ differences in leaflet colour and flower color seem enough to keep them as separate species. Like P. kesrouanensis this species is also very early flowering, although P. kesrouanensis is the earliest one. P. turcica grows at the tree line in the Taurus mountains above Antalya. A description of its surroundings with many images can be found in this blog post by Jan Emming.
Paeonia turcica in Beydaglari, Antalya – Video by Fahriye Gokcen
Paeonia turcica in Antalya, Turkey – Video by Sibel Erim
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We can conclude with P. daurica ssp macrophylla (tetraploid). Though in Turkish literature it is often referred to as P. wittmanniana, the glabrous carpels give it away as ssp macrophylla in fact. Although the officially accepted name of this species is P. daurica ssp macrophylla, it would be better to place it together with other species of the P. wittmanniana group as it is so different from P. daurica ssp daurica from Crimea. The taxonomy of the P. wittmanniana group is confusing and still rather unclear, with P. macrophylla from Turkey being genetically rather close to P. obovata (and P. mairei) according to the aforementioned research. This is a magnificent large species with large rather wide leaflets, glabrous carpels and pale creamy yellow flowers that grows in North Eastern Turkey very high in the mountains. It is the latest flowering species in Turkey – in June – due to the cold temperatures prevailing there. When growing it together with other species it is still rather late flowering, but not as late as P. peregrina.
P. macrophylla Black Sea – Both videos by KHASHKHASH
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The instagram post shows a leaf consisting of 9 leaflets, a botanical illustration and the original leaf above it. From a Paeonia macrophylla growing at high altitude in the Kaçkar Mountains, North Eastern Turkey.
Hybridizing with species
There is a program within Turkey, at the Yalova Atatürk Central Research station, to hybridize several peony species to obtain new varieties better adapted to local conditions with several varieties now under propagation.(13) Some already named varieties are ‘Bocur’, ‘Eful’, ‘Tombak’, ‘Alev Topu’, ‘Kaya’ and ‘Kançiceği’. The hybridizing continues and four species have been selected for the further development of new cultivars and as a gene pool for future trials: P. arietina ssp arietina, P. daurica, P. kesrouanensis and P. arietina ssp arasicola.(14) It remains to be seen whether these will be successful, but it is obviously positive that the Turkish species are being used to improve both garden and cut flower varieties. It is quite remarkable that so few peonies are currently grown as cut flowers and garden plants in Turkey when there is such a wide local gene pool for this species, but given all the hard hybridizing work and the rising popularity of peonies it can be expected only to rise.
All omissions and errors are ours. Feel free to comment below, especially if you’re from Turkey and have seen wild peonies in your country. Improvements to this overview are surely possible and most welcome!
- Kaya, E. “Türkiye Şakayıklarının (Paeonia spp.) Kültüre Alınması ve Islahı.” In: IV. SÜS BİTKİLERİ KONGRESİ BİLDİRİLER, 2010, pp. 230-231
- SERPİL ÜNLÜ & NERİMAN ÖZHATAY. “TÜRKİYE’NİN PAEONIA L. TÜRLERİ ÜZERİNDE FARMASÖTİK BOTANİK ARAŞTIRMALAR”. Istanbul, 2010, 104 pp.
- Personal communication with Halbay Turumtay and Cemal Sandalli, the lead researchers
- We have asked people to use their images/videos. Most replied and said ‘ok’, but some didn’t reply. As posting on social media is rather public we assume it’s ok for us to use them, especially as we give credit to the creators, but if you feel your image/video should not be here, please tell us and it shall be removed.
- De-Yuan Hong, Da-Ming Zhang, Xiao-Quan Wang, Selcuk Tugrul Koruklu & Dimitris Tzanoudakis. “Relationships and taxonomy of Paeonia arietina G. Anderson complex (Paeoniaceae) and its allies.” In: TAXON, 2008, vol 57, no3, pp. 922–932.
- DE‐YUAN HONG, XIAO‐QUAN WANG, DA‐MING ZHANG, S. TUGRUL KORUKLU, “Paeonia daurica Andrews or P. mascula ssp. triternata (Pall. ex DC.) Stearn & P. H. Davis (Paeoniaceae)?” In: Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, vol 154, no 1, 2007, pp. 1–11.
- Kaya E. & N. Özhatay. “New geophytes from Turkey”. In: Chronica Horticulturae, 2015, vol 55, no 4, p. 30.
- De-Yuan Hong, Xiao-Quan Wang, Da-Ming Zhang and Selcuk Tugrul Koruklu. “On the circumscription of Paeonia kesrouanensis, an east Mediterranean peony.” In: Nordic Journal of Botany, 2005, vol 23, no 4, pp. 395-400.
- Neriman Özhatay, Martin Page and Mike Sinnott. “Paeonia turcica.” In: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 2000, vol 17, no 2, pp. 92-98.
- N. Özhatay, E. Özhatay. “A New White Paeonia L. from north-western Turkey: P. mascula Miller Subsp. bodurii. N.Özhatay.” In: The Karaca Arboretum Magazine, 1995, vol 3, no. 1, pp. 17-26.
- Bahar KÖKÇÜ, Ersin KARABACAK. “PHENOLOGICAL BEHAVIOURS OF THE LOCAL ENDEMIC Paeonia mascula (L.) Mill. subsp. bodurii Özhatay IN ÇANAKKALE, TURKEY.” In: Trakya Univ J Nat Sci, 2021, vol 22, no 2, pp. 207-213.
- HONG De-Yuan. “A subspecies of Paeonia mascula (Paeoniaceae) from W. Asia and SE. Europe.” In: J Syst Evol, 2000, vol 38, no 4, pp. 381-385.
- Kaya, E. ” Türkiye biyoçeşitliliğinde geofitlerin yeri ve bazı çalışmalar.” In: TÜRKTOB magazine, 2016, no 18, pp 69- 79.
- Baktir, Ibrahim. “Geophyte research and production in Turkey. “In: Ornamental Geophytes: From basic science to sustainable production.” CRC Press: New York, 2013, pp. 503-518.