peony

peony (pēˈənē) [key], any plant of the genus Paeonia of the family Ranunculaceae (buttercup family, although placed in the order Dilleniales as a separate family, the Paeoniaceae, by many modern botanists), mostly Eurasian species popular as garden and florists' flowers. Herbaceous peonies (most varieties of P. lactiflora )—formerly and still sometimes called piney—are hardy, bushy perennials that die back each year. The large, usually spring-blooming, single or double flowers commonly range in shades from red to white. Tree peonies ( P. suffruticosa ) have a somewhat woody, persistent base and are usually taller than the herbaceous, with more abundant and larger blossoms; they often are very long-lived but are less common in cultivation. Both kinds of peony have long been venerated in their native China and Japan. The peony was formerly regarded as both ornamental and medicinal—the roots were used to prevent convulsions. P. brownii is a species of small peony, not horticulturally important, that is native to the West Coast of North America. Peony is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ranunculales, family Ranunculaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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