June 15, 2011

Labradoodles of the Plant World


Everyone loves peonies but it's time for something new, or at least, new to your local garden center. There are the ordinary pink or while peonies, and there are elegant tree peonies, and dwarf rock-garden peonies, but a rather new peony is making every type of peony jealous. Meet the Intersectional Peony,  tough name to remember perhaps, but the concept is simple to understand, quite simply, two sections of Paeonia (Peonies) were crossed to get a new 'sectional' or, essentially, a new sort of 'species' ( used in a way to understand it better).  Think of it this way - there are no intersectional peonies found in the wild. This was something humans had to help achieve. Essentially, Interspecific's are the Labradoodles of the plantworld.

 Early plant breeders took the old-fashioned herbaceous peony, P. lactiflora  (the sort which die to the ground every year) and then crossed it with a tree peony ( P. lemoinei) and the result was the Intersectional peony. A vigorous, large plant that can be covered in hundreds of flowers, often in colors only found in tree peonies like yellow and orange. Best of all, these peonies die back to the ground again every year thus greatly extending the hardiness range of tree peonies for those of us who struggle wintering them over beyond Zone 6.

To be more accurate, Intersectionals are not truly new, the first crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies occurred in the late 1940's by Toichi Itoh himself, but these plants took years to reach blooming size, and until a few years ago, the only way to propagate plants was through division, making retail sales impractical since factoring the time it took for a plant to reach blooming size, the best crosses sold for nearly $1000.00. Today, many Intersectionals are available, and they are often labeled as Itoh Hybrids, but in fact, there are a number of breeders today making even better crosses, yet the proper way to call these plants remains Itoh Peonies or Intersectionals. Through modern micro-propagation techniques, new hybrids are starting to reach the market for less money. Invest in a couple and watch what happens.

Monrovia Nurseries is marketing a few new introductions in a partnership with breeder Don Smith another leading grower. Look for them at only the finest peony nurseries and websites, but be prepared, they are still pricey, selling between $75 -$150 per plant, but the prices are dropping each season. I paid $200 for my golden yellow 'Bartzella' above, but recently, I've seen it for less than $80.
Itoh Hybrids and other Intersectional make spectacular garden plants, creating a massive mound of foliage that looks like a tree peony, and they produce more flowers than any herbaceous peony. What makes them different is that they are tall, (the above plant is almost 6 feet tall and had over 30 flowers this year), and then, in the autumn, then die back to the ground, unlike a tree peony which requires extra winter protection. You can learn more about Intersectionals and Itoh Hybrids at the American Peony Society website. Believe me, these new peonies are all the rage. If you want to impress your neighbors and garden visitors, I suggest you invest in one.


  1. Anonymous1:36 PM

    But do they have a fragrance??

  2. Too much for me. Living in the middle of Appalachian woods my garden has way too many bugs to take such a risk. You are right, though, it is beautiful.

  3. Matt, I have about 10 tree peonies and have not had to provide them with any protection. They are even one the front by the sidewalk and get the snow thrown on them.

  4. Bartzella is my favorite intersectional... I now have four Barts and actually found three of them (and they were large plants)for $50 each. Many nursery men in our area aren't pleased with the fellow selling them that cheaply... but I was!! Larry

  5. What a beautiful peony!! Yellow is not one of my favorite colors but they do have a wonderful place in a garden. I have not been successful with peonies probably because we have a long hot dry summer and the intense sun burns them badly. It is great to see such beautiful plants. Thanks.

  6. aahhh sooo beautiful....how ..oh how i wish i can have a peony in my garden...BUT aahhh peony doesnt like the hot humid climate of my garden!!
    Like your site....n your entries about your dad are v interesting....!!
    warm regards from Malaysia


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