Peony Collection at Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology, Kansas City, Missouri

May 5, 2010

High Noon Peonies

High Noon Tree Peonies, Courtesy Linda Hall Library

One of the earliest accounts of tree peonies was written by Ou-yang Hisu (1007-1072) and is titled “Record of the Tree Peonies of Loyang.” In this account Hisu says “as for the tree peony, this has no name but is merely referred to as ‘flower,’ meaning that in the empire the tree peony is the only true flower.” This record included names and descriptions of twenty three cultivars about which Hisu says, “… I now record only the most outstanding varieties, and rank them in order.”

Few plants are revered like tree peonies. The Chinese tree peony is the national flower of China and was once grown exclusively by the emperor. For centuries the blossoms of tree peonies have been called luminescent, silky, exotic, exquisite, and magnificent. The accolades continue today. 125 tree peonies were  featured at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology during their annual Tree Peony Tour earlier this month.  This was the first tree peony week in two years. The plants were damaged during a late April cold snap in 2007. Now, though, they are thriving. The tree peonies are part of the 14-acre arboretum that surrounds the Library.

The tree peony collection at the Library was begun in the early 1970’s by Fred Leimkuhler, the Head Groundskeeper at the time and, Don Hollingsworth of Hollingsworth Nursery. The plants are slow to establish in the garden, taking two to three years to assume normal growth and flowering. However, once they are established, they are virtually disease and insect free. Tree peonies are reported to live well over one hundred years. A mature shrub can produce 80-100 plus flowers—and what flowers they are! Blooms can range in size from 6 to 12 inches in diameter in a variety of dazzling colors. The flowers are known for their purity of colors and the delicacy of their blossoms.

Guardian of the Monastery (background) and Shimaijin (foreground), Courtesy Linda Hall Library

Guardian of the Monastery (background) and Shimaijin (foreground), Courtesy Linda Hall Library

Facts about Peonies

• Linda Hall Library’s collection of tree peonies was started in the early 1970s.

• Tree peonies are propagated by grafting a tree peony bud onto an herbaceous peony root.

• Tree peonies are not really “trees” but are deciduous shrubs.

• In their native habitat in China, they can reach eight to ten feet tall.

• In the United States they will grow in zones 4-8, requiring some winter weather in order to bloom.

• The largest shrub on the grounds of Linda Hall Library is about 5′ tall and 5-6′ wide.

Tree peony tours were  jointly sponsored by the Linda Hall Library and the Heartland Peony Society. Also on the grounds are Missouri native woodland plants, a large number of viburnums, and more than 150 species of trees.

The Linda Hall Library, the world’s largest privately funded library of science, engineering and technology, is open to the public. It is located at 5109 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Library hours are Monday, 9:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

For more information on this event, please contact Kathy Alshouse, 816-926-8727.


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