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    • #24375


      I bought one of these from the Nordic Garden Expo in Stockholm this spring. It’s the first tree peony ever for me, so I’ve tried to find some information about its origin, cultivator, and the meaning of the name ‘Kao.’ This has proven to be quite a difficult task… I do find information about Suffruticosas in general (sight selection, planting, height/width etc.) – and although some peony growers say all peonies prefer slightly alkaline soil, others say they all like slightly acid soil, I think I’m fairly well “on the map” about all that. What I’m struggling with is possibly of less importance for many, but I myself find it terribly intriguing to learn more about how certain cultivars came about, and what/who was the inspiration for their names!

      Has anyone else here any knowledge about this specific Suffruticosa cultivar, or any of the other tree peonies? Where does one go to find out more about them?

    • #24383

      Hello Heidi,

      I don’t know anything about that suffruticosa cultivar specifically. The Chinese and Japanese suffruticosa cultivars are more often than not unregistered with the American Peony Society (APS) which has been the International Cultivar Registration Authority (ICRA) since 1974. If you go to their database you’ll find several more common suffruticosa cultivars like Hana Kisoi, Shima-Nishiki and Shintenchi that are usually also locally propagated and available in both the USA and Europe. But for many of those directly imported from Asia that is not the case. I do hope that will change.

      One specific problem is that translation from Japanese or Chinese into Western-style pronunciation differs sometimes slightly and you may sometimes wonder whether it is the same cultivar or not. The image of your suffruticosa says ‘Kao’. The APS registry doesn’t recognize it. But there are also other sources which I occasionally use to find more information (apart from doing a simple google search of course).

      The excellent book about peonies written by Martin Page lists several suffruticosa cultivars, one of them being the Japanse tree peony ‘Kaow’. It might well be the same cultivar. If you’re new to growing peonies or want more information about them, I can only highly recommend this book. Page Martin. “The Gardener’s Peony.” Timber Press: Cambridge, 2005, 267 p.


      Another source to find more information about peony cultivars from China/Japan is the Ukrainian peony supplier peony.com.ua who lists several of them. You’ll have to use a browser that can translate other languages (chrome for example). If I search there I end up with Kao Hua Wang, the images also resemble yours, so there’s a chance it’s the same cultivar. And this is what it says about it:

      Japanese tree peony Kao – Hua Wang .

      The variety was introduced by Mr. C. Watanabe on the Japanese island of Daikon-jima in 1931. This is a fairly easy to care for a variety of Japanese tree-like peonies, which is characterized by a variety of shades, a pleasant aroma and the splendor of flowering.

      The flowers are large (20-25 cm), with a vertical arrangement. Petals of reddish-pink shade. Can be completely painted in pink or purple colors. Very contrasting golden core.

      Flowering occurs in the middle of the season. Prefers the space around itself, as it can grow nearly one and a half meters.

      Kao-Hua Wang is growing very vigorously and can reach two-meter high at the age of 8-10 years.

      Frost resistance is very good (it withstands frost below -30 ¬į C).

      Then there is also the tremendously interesting peony site of Carsten Burkhardt which lists countless peony cultivars at http://www.paeon.de with your ‘Kao’ also being in his database (it lists far more than the registered ones). Sometimes written as ‘Kaoh’, ‘Kaow’ or ‘Kaou’, but all referring to the same cultivar.

      So, I hope this does help you somewhat ūüôā

      All the best,


      • #24385

        Koen, you Beaut!!! First you say you know nothing about Kao, and then you proceed to give me¬† information about it,¬† not from one but three different sources! =)¬† Yes, this is absolutely the same cultivar as mine, and as long as no-one calls it COW, I’m fine with any other spelling… I will definately look up Martin Pages book, but since I am especially interested in tree peonies at the moment (particularily since they are still rather rare in Finland due to our climate – which is ofcourse rapidly changing as I’m sure we’re all well aware of…) I’m exhilarated to receive the knowledge of this Ukrainian peony suppliers and Carsten Burkhardts web pages!

        You have delivered EXACTLY what I was looking for, Koen, thank you!

        Looking forward to this little plant growing into a true King of Flowers!


    • #24389

      Well, I’m glad it was helpful.

      Thumbs up that they grow well. The description from the Ukrainian site gives frost hardiness up to minus 30¬įC, which is quite hardy of course. But long ago when I¬† studied as an exchange student in Kobenhavn, I used to know a Finnish girl and when I once remarked that it was rather cold she told me at her place temperatures went down to -40¬įC, so I hope you’re living somewhat closer to the southern edges of your country than she did ūüėČ

      If you’re interested in growing tree peonies in your country, perhaps it would be a good idea to try some P. rockii (hybrids). These are normally better suited to your climate I think and you will know them from their dark flares at the petal bases. The rockii cultivars are also known as Gansu Mudan or Xibei Mudan, whilst the suffruticosa cultivars are known as Zhongyuan Mudan. Both are somewhat accustomed to rather dry climates, but suffruticosas prefer warmer climates compared to the rockiis. The species itself is usually white with the dark flare, the hybrids will have other colours as well.


      All the best and good luck,


      • #24393

        I’ve now spent the entire day surfing on the internet, studying web pages in Ukraine, USA and finally Japan.

        I got as far as to Daikon-island in Japan, next to the city of Matsue, and a garden there called “Yuushien”. On their web page I found information about the tree peony ‘King of Flowers’, which has been cultivated by Saburo Watanabe on Daikon-island!!! The same man also has cultivated another (tree?) peony, named ‘Hairaku’, The Yellow Crown (in 2003). That amazed me, since the ukrainian source said he had cultivated Kao in 1931… Technically both years COULD be correct, but… that would mean Mr. Watanabe had strated his career very, very young, and continued until almost a 100 years of age…¬† I like challenges like this, and will continue to work on finding how to contact the Yuushien Garden, to ask THEM about Mr. Watanabes life and works. So far I’ve been unsuccessful, but surely I can find a name somewhere on their page to send e-mail to!

        About the climate here in Finland: I am indeed lucky enough to live on the southwestern coast of our country, so the winter is quite short, and most of that time the temperatures remain somewhere between minus 10-20 degrees Celcius. But it allways pays to prepare the ground properly before planting ones peonies… Right now I’m planning to start a new “PeonyLand” on a slight slope I have in our garden. It’ll be just perfect I think!

        Thanks again for your help! I’m sure sooner or later I will ask for more help from the friends here, or report about the growth and well being of my tree peony…

        Enjoy the summer season!


    • #25506

      Hi Heidi

      Sorry i have not seen this ..before.. But

      All my respect for Koen.. but he writes he do not know.. so its ok

      But – Kao is from china – In china they have the practice to use the seeds by Kao and also the practice that all other suffruticosa that looks like Kao – they call Kao – this means, if you have got, as we can se more than 1 Kao – they are geneticaly – NOT the same, at all
      We have to accept that China – does this way
      We in the Western countries – use only a scion from the mother plant ( Kao ) or a section, where you have divided the true tree peony – to call it the name.

      Koen names some other suffruticosa..s some of them are from Japan.. where they do different than China – they often only use scions made from the true mother plant – but some of them use also seeds.. like Look alike s calling them the name -the reason why its also importend is – the hardiness

      I live in Denmark – and many of the japanese tree peonies are NOT hardy.. enough.. it means they .. just survive.. but the stems die down and they have to start over gain with new stems – some are hardy.. some are not – maybe we could make – a site.. for this

      A site where we all could write the name and then our zones for hardiness and how they survive

      As Koen also writes..some of the tree peonies from China.. are not hardy in places where the temperature goes down under minus 10 – and the Chinese s it not aware by this

      But you Kao.. is not to find geneticaly – But if it survives.. grow it and enoy it.. se if it sets seeds.. or have fertile pollen.. and try to cross with it – and let us know.. how they perform for you

    • #25508

      Hi Heidi again

      I forget to mention – your asking for what type – species is the tree peony group P.suffruticosa !!
      P. suffruticosa – Is not a species – it is a group of different tree peonies

      So in fact.. it is a hybrid tree epony – where different types of tree peonies ocur if you breed them further.
      I learned this by ; Will mc Lewin ( UK )

      He has written a book, about this and specialy the tree peonies.. we call P.rockii – as in chinese is Ganzu Mudan – Peony Rockii and Ganzu Mudan is the title of the book



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