Paeonia veitchii

Source: Hong, De-Yuan. “Peonies of the world. Part III: Phylogeny and evolution.” Kew Publishing: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2021, pp. 227-228.

Herbs perennial. Tap roots up to 60 cm long, thickened, carrot-shaped, attenuate downwards, up to 2 cm in diameter, lateral roots, if present, also carrot-shaped, neither tuberous, nor fusiform. Stems single or 2 -3-cespitose, simple, mostly 25 – 59 cm, rarely up to 70 cm tall. Lower leaves biternate, with leaflets 9 and segments 70 – 100 in number; leaflets often decurrent, finely segmented; segments 1.5 – 10 cm long, 0.3 – 2 cm wide, with bristles along veins above, glabrous beneath. Flowers usually 2 – 4 on a stem, forming a cyme, less frequently solitary but with one or two undeveloped flower buds, rarely simply solitary; involucrate bracts 1 – 3  in number, leaf-like; sepals 3 – 5  in number, mostly caudate at apex, rarely one or occasionally two non-caudate, glabrous, very rarely hispidulous on abaxial surface; petals rose, pale red, red, less frequently white, 6 – 9 in number, obovate, entire or incised at apex, 4 – 5 cm long, 3 – 4 cm wide; disk waved, ca. 1.5 mm high; carpels mostly 3 or 2, rarely 4 or 1 in number, densely tomentose, rarely sparsely hairy or glabrous; ovules 12 – 16 in number per carpel; styles absent or less than 0.5 mm long; stigmas red, 2 mm wide. Follicles columnar, 1.5 – 3 cm long, 1 – 1.5 cm wide. Seeds ovoid or ovoid-spherical, black 6 – 7 mm long, 4 – 5 mm wide.

Paeonia veitchii on a cliff above a highway in western Sichuan China, 3500m. Image by Wenbo Chen on Facebook.

Phenology. Flowering from late April to early June; fruiting in August and September.

Chromosome number. 2n=10 (diploid)

Habitats and distribution. Relatively moist places : forests, edges of forests, rarely in bushes or meadows; from 1,800 to 3,870 m alt. A few collections recorded from the localities with limestones, granites and sandstones as the medium. Widely distributed in China: SE & C Gansu, E. Qinghai, S Ningxia, Shaanxi (Qinling Range), Shanxi, W Sichuan, Tibet (Eastern extreme) and NE Yunnan.

Paeonia veitchii

Source: Lynch, R. “Paeonia veitchii.” In: The Gardener’s Chronicle, 1909, vol 46, p. 2.

This new species of Paeonia is a welcome addition to gardens. It is a native of the uplands around Tatien-lu, a district in the far west of China, close to the Tibetan frontier, and is frequently found by the margins of thickets at an elevation of from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. It was introduced by Messrs. James Veitch & Sons through their collector, Mr. Wilson. The plant is so charming and so unlike every other kind, that I think it worthy of bearing the name I have ventured to give it. It does not, of course, compare with the old garden doubles or even with the great singles, but it has attractive features found in no other Paeony. P. veitchii has been referred to P. anomala, one of the sections in which the leaves are narrowly divided or pinnatisect, but if compared with that or either of the allied kinds, it is found to differ remarkably in bearing several flowers to a stem, in having a light green, brightly-glistening leaf surface both above and below, very distinct elevations of the leaf between the veins, and a different proportion between certain parts of the plant. While the stem of P. anomala—to take this species for comparison—may be 2 feet high and bear 9 or 10 leaves, with the lowest petiole only one-eighth as long as the stem, P. veitchii, with a stem 2 feet high, has only six or seven leaves, and the petiole of the lowest leaf is one-third or one-fourth, or at least one-sixth as long as the item that bears it. Again, with regard to the leaf, while P. anomala may have 22 distinct leaf segments, each 1/4 inch across, P. veitchii has 16 segments only, and they are 1/2 inch across.

Comparison with every other species of the genus shows equally marked differences. In its habit of producing from one to four flowers to a stem, it is distinct from all other species except P. albiflora [P. lactiflora, Ed.] and P. emodi, neither of which it resembles. The flowers of the genus Paeonia are almost always solitary, and I know of one further exception only, that of a specimen, perhaps abnormal, of either P. peregrina or an ally, which I saw in the Herbarium of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, some years ago. I have not referred to flower characters because in Paeonia they are not strong; other characters are stronger, and in this genus there is evidence, I believe, that evolution may affect other organs of a plant and leave the flowers unmodified. Quite distinct species of Paeonia may have flowers that are difficult to distinguish in technical terms, and, moreover, the same species may show remarkable variation in a flower character. Two or three species, for instance, may have either glabrous or hairy carpels—usually in other plants a difference of some moment—and yet they may not vary in any other particular. P. veitchii, however, is quite distinct in the flower, though there are few strong characters for description. In bud, and even when open, the flower, having a slender stalk, is often nodding, and may expand to be quite flat. The flowers are 3 ¾ inches in diameter and of a slight, yet distinct, purplish-crimson. The accompanying illustration from a photograph taken by my son shows several of the features I have pointed out; it should be explained that the lower leaf belongs to the tall stem and the two lower flowers are on separate stalks, and are put in to show the fully-open and partly-open flower. In the above account I have referred, I think, to all the chief features of contrast with other Paeonies of the subgenus Paeon, which includes all the herbaceous kinds, and it is, therefore, perhaps unnecessary to give a formal and detailed description. A few words, however, are necessary with reference to the garden value of the plant. It is free-flowering, of very neat and graceful habit, and forms a dense mass of conspicuously light-green, many-pointed foliage. It might, I think, be useful in hybridising for the purpose of reducing the stiffness of the big peonies. Last year an assistant made a few crosses, but nothing happened, yet still I think crosses may be possible. The flowers are very bright in colour, and unless required for a very large arrangement, there is no species so suitable for cutting from. They last well in water. P. veitchii is quite easy to grow in an ordinary border. All peonies like rich soil, and they must be well established before they do their best. I have found that they like a little shade, and even planted among the roots of trees they do well.


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