Paeonia clusii Stearn & Davis

Peonies in Greece 1984

type: [herbaceous peony] – [species]

accepted name (2005)




Stearn & Davis


4. P. clusii

P. cretica Tausch in Flora (Regensburg) 9:88 (1828); non Sabine (1824).

P. peregrina var. glabra Boiss., Fl. Orient. 1:97 (1867).

P. peregrina var. cretica Huth in Engler, Bot. Jahrb. 14:270 (1891).

P. officinalis var. glabra (Boiss.) Hayek, Prodr. Fl. Penins. Balcan. 1:298 (1924).

P. clusii F.C. Stern & Stearn in Curtis's Bot. Mag. 162: t. 9594 (1940); Rechinger f., Fl. Aegaea, 177 (1943); F.C. Stern, Study of Paeonia, 102, t. (1946); Cullen & Heywood in Fl. Europ. 1:243 (1964).

P. clusii subsp. clusii; Tzanoudakis, Cytotaxon. Study Paeonia in Greece, 23 (1977).

Illustrations: Curtis's Bot. Mag. t. 9594 (1940); F.C. Stern, op. cit. (1946).

Protologue: "6. Paeonia cretica: herbacea; germinibus 5 tomentosis; foliis ternatimsectis, segmentis 5-natopinnatifidis, laciniis lanceolatis acuminatis basi decurrentibus utrinque glabris.

P. cretica. Clus. hist. 1. p. 281. DeCand. syst. veg. I p. 394.

P. folio subtus incano flore albo v. pallido. C. Bauh. pin. 323.

Habitat in montibus Sphakeoticis Cretae, Sieber.

Steht der P. anomala L. am nächsten. Der Stengel ist aufrecht unbehaart. Die Abschnitte der Blätter 5-zahlig, die Lappen alle ganz lanzettförmig lang zugespitzt ganz unbehaart, unten etwas blasser aber nicht graugrün. Die Blume weiss (Sieber), die Fruchtknoten 5 aufrecht weissfilzig, die Narbe bogenförmig-purpurroth." (Tausch, loc. cit. 1828).

Description: Stem glabrous 20-30 cm, pink or purplish. Lower leaves biternate, leaflets dissected into 30 or more very acute segments which are themselves lobed and toothed, totalling 40-80 leaflets and lobes that are narrowly oblong-lanceolate, acute to acuminate, usually glabrous on both surfaces, firmer textured than in P. rhodia. Flowers 7-10 cm across. Petals 6-8, obovale to obovate-orbicular, white, rarely flushed pink. Filaments pink. Follicles 2-5, shortly white-tomentose; style 7-8 mm, stigmatic area 1.5-2 mm broad, circinnate only in upper ½ - 3/4, Fl. April - May. 2n: 10. (W. Crete and Karpathos), 2n: 20 (E. Crete).

Type: Crete, “in montibus Sphakeoticis Cretae;" Sieber (K! Praha. Holotype!)

Distribution: Endemic to Crete and Karpathos.

KRITI (Crete): ---------

KARPATHOS: --------

Habitats: Pinus halepensis forest, Cupressus sempervirens var. horizontalis forest, Pistacia lentiscus macchie, dry calcareous river beds and among rocks. Altitude 200-190 m. P. rhodia differs from it in leaf shape and texture.

The existence of a white-flowered peony on Crete was recorded in 1553 by the adventurous roving French naturalist Pierre Belon (1517-1564) and confirmed in 1593 by an Italian doctor Onorio Belli (d. 1604), resident in Crete, a correspondent of Clusius as was also a Florentine nobleman Matteo Caccini (1573-1640) who grew various plants from Crete and Constantinople. Letters to him from Clusius were edited and published by P. Ginori Conti in 1939. Thus, it is unlikely that the Paeonia flore albo simplici listed and grown by Caccini could have come from anywhere but Crete. Venetian trading activity made communication between north Italy and Crete easy and frequent. For two centuries thereafter the Cretan peony remained obscure, but in 1817 a Bohemian plant-collector, Franz Wilhelm Sieber (1789-1844), visited Crete and gathered specimens in the White Mountains. His compatriot Ignaz Friedrich Tausch (1793-1848) recognized them as belonging to a new species which he described in 1828 as P. cretica. Unfortunately between 1601 and 1824 the Clusian name P. cretica had become associated with another peony having pink flowers and hairy less divided leaves, long cultivated in Oxford and unknown in Crete, Andersen's P. arietina var. oxoniensis. This was described and illustrated in the Botanical Register 10: t. 819 (1824) as P. cretica Sabine by John Lindley. Hence Tausch's name P. cretica (1828), being a later homonym, could not legitimately be used for the Cretan peony, which accordingly needed a new name. When this came to Stearn's attention in 1935 he renamed it P. clusii and between 1935 and 1939 annotated as such the specimens in the British Museum, Cambridge, Gothenburg, Prague, Upsala and Vienna herbaria, intending himself to publish this manuscript name later. Before then it had been validly published independently by F.C. Stern and K.H. Rechinger.

Few scholars offer a nobler example of devotion to botany, despite ill-health, crippling accidents and poverty, than Charles de l’Escluse (1526-1609), who published in Latin as "Carolus Clusius"; writing in Italian he signed himself "Carlo Clusio". His many-sided curiosity, aided by his grasp of Latin, Creek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and Flemish, took all the period's learning in its survey; he was a master of the art of plant description. Accordingly, on account of his contribution to knowledge of peonies and a vast number of other plants, it seemed fitting to name this peony clusii for him. To their lasting credit the Curatores of the young University of Leiden induced him at the age of 66 to accept the post of director (Praefectus Horti) of the Leiden botanic garden and to spend his last years happily and fruitfully in Holland. After Sieber's visit Paeonia clusii was collected by Raulin, Heldreich and many others and had been introduced before 1920 into English gardens by Aubyn Trevor-Battye, author of Camping in Crete. For many years its specific distinctness went unrecognized, Boissier having named it P. peregrina var. glabra. In 1886 a Scottish doctor interested in the scientific exploration of the Aegean archipelago, Charles I. Forsyth Major (1843-1923), found it on Karpathos and recorded it from there in 1895. Acquaintance with this peony in a living state made evident its well-marked distinctive features.

With its usually cerise-tinged stems, finely cut leaves and large white clove-scented flowers, P. clusii is the most elegant of the Creek peonies.

Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Database


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