F.C. Stern

The Tibetan form of Paeonia lutea

Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 1947 vol. 72 (10) 394-395 illus.

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An exceptional fine new garden plant has been introduced from Tibet by Messrs. ludlow and sherriff, in the Tibetan form of Paeonia lutea (Fig. 157). It is a far more beautiful plant than the Chinese form of P. lutea, originally discovered by Pere delavay in 1883. The Chinese form makes bushes about 3 feet high and the flowers are small and usually somewhat hidden by the foliage. It is not a very satisfactory or showy plant for the garden although it has been most useful as a parent for hybridizing, producing as the pollen parent such grand tree Paeonies as P. X ' Esperance ' and P. X ' Argosy.' The Tibetan form has a different habit; it grows more upright to some 6 feet high or more and the flowers stand up above the foliage; the flowers are usually about twice the size of those of the Chinese form and the colour is a real butter yellow. It is a striking plant and seems easy to grow. In this garden the young plants were planted on the side of the cliff in poor chalky soil. They have grown with great vigour and look quite happy in this rather poor place.

In comparing the Tibetan form with the Chinese form there seems to be no doubt that it is P. lutea but an exceptional fine form of it. The Tibetan form flowers about three weeks earlier than the Chinese form, the flowers and carpels are larger and perhaps the seed. The foliage is stronger though the leaves are only slightly bigger, but the leaves are more coriaceous than the Chinese form whose leaves are usually smooth and thin. The main characters of P. lutea wherein it differs from P. Delavayi are in the bracts and sepals. These are exactly the same in both the Tibetan and Chinese forms though both bracts and sepals are somewhat larger in the Tibetan form. It differs from P. Delavayi by the absence of the involucre below the calyx so characteristic of P. Delavayi.

kingdon ward found this Tibetan form at Tsela Dzong on the Tsangpo River in Tibet in 1924; his dried specimen is at the Kew Herbarium under his number K.W. 5691 recorded as growing 6-8 feet high. It was again found by ludlow and sherriff in Lung Chayul in southern Tibet at 9,500 feet; specimens of these are in the British Museum Herbarium. Dr. george taylor of the British Museum (Natural History) has kindly sent me a copy of ludlow and sherriff's field notes which read as follows :

" ludlow and sherriff 1376. Lung, Chayul Chu, S.E. Tibet. 28.4.36. Alt. 9,500 feet. Bright orange yellow, anthers ditto. Grows with a straight single woody stem but has 2, 3, 4 or 5 flowers. In scrub jungle and holly oak forest."

Dr. Taylor also collected this form under the numbers ludlow, sherriff and taylor 4540 and 6392 and his field notes read :

" L., S. and T. 4540. Tsangpo Valley near Miling. 9,800 feet. 28.5.38. Shrub up to 8 feet with long bare unbranched (or rarely branched) stems bearing leaves and up to 4 flowers at apex. Petals golden yellow. Filaments greenish yellow; anthers buff. Carpels green. On dry sandy alluvium or river terraces." " L., S. and T. 6392. Channe, Char Chu. 10,900 feet. 22.10.38. Shrub of 5 feet on river gravel. In fruit. Seed collected."

He further adds:

" In this station it was one of the most magnificent floral spectacles I have seen. With the sub shining through the silky petals it was really a marvellous sight."

ludlow and sherriff introduced seed, and from this seed the magnificent plants now flowering in English gardens have been raised. The flowers were shown in several stands of the competition for flowering shrubs at the Chelsea Show in May last.

F.C. Stern

Fig 157. Paeonia lutea, Tibetan form, growing at Wisley