F. C. Stern & G. Taylor.


Bot. Mag. 1953 vol. 169 t.209


This beautiful peony, now well established in gardens in many parts of Britain, is one of the most notable recent introductions, and several generations have now been raised from the original plants derived from seeds collected by Ludlow and Sherriff in 1936. P. lutea var. Ludlowii is known from several localities in a comparatively restricted area of S.E. Tibet, where it forms considerable colonies on dry gravel terraces, in shrubby thickets, and in holly-oak forest at altitudes between 9000 and 11000 feet. The parts of the Tsangpo Valley and neighbouring areas where the plant is found have a relatively low rainfall, probably not more than 40 inches per year, and in some places even less. They escape the full force of the monsoon, which is largely spent on the screening main range to the south. From this climatic zone, intermediate between the rain-drenched Himalaya and austere plateau, come many plants of high horticultural merit, such as Berberis spp., Buddleja spp., Clematis orientalis, Codonopsis vinci-flora, Cotoneaster conspicua, Lilium Wardii, Paeonia lutea var. Ludlowii, Stellera chamaejasme, while others, e.g. Elaeagnus umbellata, Myricaria Wardii, and Oxytropis sericopetala, await introduction. Species from this transitional region are apparently not so exacting in their requirements when introduced into Britain, and thrive in the dryer parts of the country.

The present plate was prepared from flowering material sent by Colonel F. C. Stern, Highdown, Goring-by-Sea, Sussex, where the plant grows to perfection on steep chalk scree. Ludlow's peony is one of the so-called tree species, and its long, gaunt, commonly un-branched stems may reach a height of 8 ft. P. lutea var. lutea, which has been in cultivation for the past half century, is not such a robust plant, seldom exceeding a height of 5 ft. In cultivation, apart from their different stature, the two varieties are readily recognisable on account of certain habit and floral distinctions. The flowers of P. lutea var. Ludlowii, borne on almost erect pedicels above the apical cluster of leaves, are larger and more open than those of P. lutea var. lutea, which are somewhat cup-shaped and concealed by the foliage. Of almost 200 flowers of P. lutea var. Ludlowii examined in various gardens, none has had more than two functional carpels, whereas in all P. lutea var. lutea flowers examined the follicles number 3 or 4, and these are only about half the size of those in var. Ludlowii. In herbarium specimens the number of carpels in P. lutea var. Ludlowii varies from 1 to 3, although all fruiting specimens have a single, rarely a second, follicle.

P. lutea is a native of Yunnan, and Kingdon Ward has suggested that the plant found in S.E. Tibet may have been introduced by the Chinese. It is certainly true that in some localities it is found near habitation and cultivation, but it also grows in places apparently remote from human interference. The species was figured about 50 years ago (Bot. Mag. t. 7788: 1901) when it first appeared in cultivation, and a later portrait of the plant, described as a better form, under the name P. lutea var. superba, appeared in 1908 (Gard. Chron. ser.3,44,50 (1908) ).

The characters and dimensions given in the description below are based on a wide range of specimens collected in S.E. Tibet and in cultivation in this country.

Cultivation. The plant illustrated was raised from seed sent home by Ludlow and Sherriff in 1936 (No. 1376), but successful introductions were also made in 1938 (Ludlow, Sherriffand Taylor No. 6392), and 1947 (Ludlow, Sherriffand Elliot No. 13313), and the variety is now widely distributed in gardens throughout the country. In cultivation it flowers about a month earlier than P. lutea var. lutea. It is apparently perfectly hardy in these islands and grows best in a sunny position. It does not seem fastidious in regard to soil, being equally happy in chalk rubble, rich loam, or poor gravelly soil. The seed germinates best if it is sown immediately it is taken from the splitting follicles, or removed from the follicles before they are fully ripe. Growth from seed is slow, but, so far, no other means of propagation is known.

Paeonia lutea var. Ludlowii Stern et Taylor var. nov. a var. lutea statura majore, floribus majoribus ([5-] 7-10 [-12] cm. diametro), petalis patentioribus, folliculis 1-2, recedit.

Syn.: P. Delavayi var. lutea sensu Marquand in Journ. Linn. Soc. London, Bot. 48, 158 (1929).

P. lutea sensu Stern, Study Gen. Paeonia, 46 (1946) pro parte, quoad plantas a Ludlow, Sherriff et Kingdon-Ward lectas.

P. lutea, Tibetan form. Stern in Journ. R.H.S. London, 72, 394, fig. 157 (1947).

Description .

An erect, unbranched or sparingly-branched, deciduous shrub, up to about 2-5 m. tall. Stems commonly leafless except on the current year's growth, the older parts with prominent leaf scars and with persistent woody or coriaceous perulae at the base of each annual growth, glabrous with ash-grey bark becoming somewhat light brown and peeling. Leaves trifoliolate but usually biternate, up to 54 cm. long (including the petiole which may be up to 25 cm.) and 40 cm. wide, glabrous, dark green above, glaucous beneath; leaflets incisely lobed or toothed, lobes generally tapering at the apex to a long point. Flowers usually about 4 on each stem, on erect pedicels up to 16 cm. long, up to 12 cm. across. Bracts and sepals 6-10, persistent; outer foliaceous, narrowly oblong to narrowly elliptic-lanceolate, acute at the apex, 4-4-5 cm. long, 7-12 mm. wide; the intermediate ones oblate and caudate at the apex to suborbicular and cuspidate, about 2-5 cm. long and 2-8 cm. wide; the inner ones suborbicular, rounded or shortly cuspidate at the apex, 2-5-3-2 cm. long, and 2-3 cm. wide. Petals about 12, deep butter-yellow with a silky sheen, suborbicular to oblong-obovate, broadly cuneate at the base, rounded, entire, obscurely crenulate or notched at the apex, the largest 6-5 cm. long and up to 3-8 cm. wide. Filaments greenish yellow, red or reddish-brown, 8-16 mm. long; anthers buff or yellow, up to 2-8 mm. long. Carpels 1-3, green, ellipsoid-oblong, glabrous. Disc conspicuously lobed around the base of the carpels, lobes fleshy, 6-5 mm. long. Follicles 1-2, 5-9-7-1 cm. long, 2-5-3 cm. wide. Seeds black, about 12 mm. long and 8 mm. wide.


S.E. Tibet: Charme Distr., Trön, Loro Chu, Kingdon-Ward 11792;

Charme, Char Chu, seed specimen, Ludlow, Sherriff& Taylor 6392;

Lung, Chayul Chu, Ludlow & Sherriff 1376;

Kongbo Prov., Miling, Tsangpo Valley, Ludlow, Sherriff & Taylor 4540 (type in Herb. Brit. Mus.);

same locality, seed specimen, Ludlow, Sherriff & Elliot 13313;

Shoka, Tsangpo Valley, Ludlow, Shemff & Elliot 15052;

Shinji Chogyal, near Gyala, Tsangpo Valley, Ludlow, Sherriff & Elliot 13641.



A, flower, petals and stamens removed, showing the disc and single carpel, x 2;

B, stamens, X 2.

F. C. Stern and G. Taylor.