Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library

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Paeonia-Literatur 2006

Peony rockii and Gansu Mudan

Will McLewin Dezhong Chen






6.1 Morphology


(i) Roots

(ii) Buds

(iii) Branches

(iv) Leaves

(v) Flowers

(vi) Blotches and Back-blotches

(vii) Fruit and Seed

6.2 Features during growth




7.1 Cultivation


(i) Planting

(ii) Feeding and Pruning

(iii) Watering

(iv) Sunlight

(v) Transplanting

7.2 Propagation


(i) Seed

(ii) Grafting

(iii) Division

(iv) Layering

(v) Cuttings

(vi) Micropropagation and Tissue Culture



8.1 Peace Peony Nursery


8.2 Phedar Research and Experimental Nursery


8.3 La Pivoine Bleue


8.4 Contact addresses







6.1 Morphology

In common with many large groups of hybrid plants overall appearance and particular features vary greatly between individuals and can be significantly affected by the micro- and macro-environment. Nevertheless there are some noteworthy general characteristics.

The stronger and more vigorous examples can, in time, grow to over three metres in height and width. Such specimens, or even more-usual mature plants one to two metres high and as wide, free flowering and with the usual upright or outward facing flowers can reasonably be described as magnificent.

A detailed comparison between P. rockii, Gansu Mudan and Central Plains Mudan at Peace Peony Nursery, Lanzhou, Gansu is in Section 1 Chapter 4, p.38.

(i) Roots

(ii) Buds

(iii) Branches

(iv) Leaves

(v) Flowers

(vi) Blotches and Back-blotches

(vii) Fruit and Seed

(i) Roots The woody quality of the roots is greater than that of other mudan. The danpi (the root bark) of Gansu Mudan is not as thick as other mudan so in this respect they are much less productive than, for example, the Feng Dan plants that are grown extensively in Jingnan - south of the Yangtze River. Also there are more side roots and fibrous roots than other varieties of Mudan. This feature presumably aids their survival in various adverse environments. The roots of Gansu Mudan can reach several metres deep down in the loose, soft and deep loess soil at Peace Peony Nursery, where ten-year-old Gansu Mudan seedling plants with 7mm thick roots at a depth of three metres can have strong Feng Dan influence the new branches are more pithy, less brown and more green-white in colour and are not as reliably frost hardy.



Top left and right, above: Initial leaf and bud growth, in some cases hairy in others not.

Early spring growth on a grafted plant that has been deeply planted.

(ii) Buds Gansu Mudan produce leaf buds and flower buds. In general leaf buds are thin and small and flower buds are large and fat, but it is not always easy to be sure which buds are flower buds. Small flower buds are more likely to be those of flowers without normal stigmas and stamens. Both tip buds and axillary buds can be flower buds. When flower buds develop they produce a stalk bearing 5-7 compound leaves and the flower comes at the tip. In favourable circumstances a seedling will produce flower buds after 4-6 years.

Tip flower buds of Gansu Mudan can be as large as 1.0cm (bottom diameter) by 2.8cm (length) and are usually larger than those of the wild P. rockii. Axial flower buds have a narrow base and are generally smaller. The colour of the flower buds changes during their development: green to brown in early summer and autumn, more reddish-purple in spring and more green again as the flower opens. To some extent bud shape and colour can be used to identify different varieties in autumn and winter.



A Gansu Mudan in early Spring, with normal or the most common form of branch growth.

Upright form of branch growth.

Spreading form of branch growth.

(iii) Branches Gansu Mudan generally have strong main stems, 15 cm in diameter is possible in old plants. The wood of the main stem and branches is hard and there is not much pith. The phloem or inner bark is relatively thin and the epidermis or outer bark is dark grey-brown. New branches are a light brown colour. The angles of branches and the shapes of Gansu Mudan vary greatly, reflecting the different groups of plants involved in their development. Where the influence of Central Plains Mudan is very strong (equally, in Central Plains Mudan even with some Gansu Mudan influence) there is a tend-ancy towards several pithy main stems which are damaged by drought and cold and which re-grow from the base.



A Gansu Mudan seedling with entire (unlobed) leaflets. It would be P. rockii linyanshanii form if it had come from true wild seed. This plant is at the late infancy stage and has made very strong new branch growth for the first time.

An established Gansu Mudan with broad unlobed leaflets.

Gansu Mudan showing both pointed and more rounded leaflets.

Bottom left and right: Gansu Mudan leaves showing various leaflet shapes and colours.

(iv) Leaves Gansu Mudan have large bi-pinnate leaves which give them an attractive appearance before and after flowering time. Overall leaf size varies greatly. Main leaves, those not on the new growth of a flower stem, can be over 30cm long and 25cm wide with a 15cm petiole. Individual leaflets are a mixture of deeply lobed, shallowly lobed and (rarely) unlobed. Lobes may be rounded or pointed. Generally leaves are dark or bright green above and light green or grey-green beneath. Sometimes the edge of a leaflet is pale brown, occasionally dark brown. Leaf size and leaf colour are affected greatly by the environment and the cultivation conditions. The leaf veins on the underside of the leaf stick out and are hairy. In general the more hairy the underside of the leaves the greater is the plant's resistance to cold.

The new young leaves just developing are brightly coloured and very attractive. At this stage they are sometimes conspicuously hairy and so they catch and retain water droplets after

rain or watering. The glittering effect this produces is as eye-catching as display of spring flowers. Autumn leaf colour can be spectacular but is unpredictable



Left and above: Spectacular autumn leaf colour in Gansu Mudan in pots and probably partly induced by stress.

Autumn leaf colour at various stages in Gansu Mudan in pots.

Left: Young Growth of Gansu Mudan in Spring, after rain. Right: Early autumn leaf colour in an established Gansu Mudan growing in open ground.



Top row and above: Examples of Gansu Mudan flowers showing the different appearance that results from different petal shape. When petals are broad at the base and overlapping the blotches of the outer whorl are obscured. When petals are narrow at the base and not overlapping there appears to be a single ring of ten blotches. In between the two extremes alternate blotches appear as narrow spikes.

A Gansu Mudan flower with back blotches. The blotch colour is present on both surfaces of the petals.

(v) Flowers While the range of identifiable flower forms of Gansu Mudan is not quite as large as that of Central Plains hybrids almost anything is possible in terms of the degree and form of doubling. In bud the ornamental part of the flower is enclosed in three or four round-shaped sepals. The more outer two are green and the more inner one whitish initially. Immediately beneath the sepals are three narrow bracts of an involucre. These are very variable in size and shape, usually narrow and 3 -6 cm long but sometimes like a small pinnate leaf. The sepals and the bracts persist after petals have fallen and seed ripened. Inside the sepals the petals, carpels and stamens sit on a woody disc. The carpels are initially enclosed in a sheath, a membrane attached to the disc. Some authors persist in referring to this sheath as the disk, which is particularly perverse and unhelpful. The sheath colour is white (or yellowish white) in all wild Gansu Mudan, red-purple in Feng Dan plants and mostly some sort of red in Central Plains hybrids. Consequently the sheath in Gansu Mudan can be any of these colours. Almost exactly similar remarks apply to the filaments.



Gansu Mudan flowers with dark back blotches. The blotch colour is present on both sides of the petals. Right: An example of white back blotches; the inner blotches are black.

Examples of Gansu Mudan with different colour flowers on the same branch. Usually this effect is the result of the intesity of pink colouring reducing as the flower ages.

In partial and full double examples the extra petals inside the bowl of 'normal' petals are (in most cases) the result of petalization of some or all of the up to 300 stamens. Some or all of the filaments become petaloid to a greater or lesser degree (from 3 to 25 mm in width). In some cases the anthers remain and produce pollen. There are also examples where the stigmas have become petaloid. In many examples the precise form or the degree of doubling can vary slightly or markedly from flower to flower on the same plant and from year to year. In particular early flowers may be more double than later ones during the flowering season and flowers overall may become more double as plants become well established and grow strongly. The 'normal' outer petals are round or fan-shaped, sometimes heart-shaped. They can be smooth edged or frilled.

(vi) Blotches and Back-blotches The most striking and distinctive character of Gansu Mudan is of course the dark blotches at the base of the petals. These can vary from a delicate smudge to a large thumbprint; they can be neat or ragged edged or flaring out into the petal; they can be solid or hollow. They can be any colour from black through purple to crimson and red. They can be black edged crimson and so on. (They can even, rarely, be absent. In this case the designation of the plant as a Gansu Mudan is somewhat debateable and rests on its provenance and the other characteristics of the Gansu Group.)

However to be precise the familiar blotches should be called inner blotches, or, to translate literally from the Chinese, belly blotches, because plants have been developed at Peace Peony Nursery with pronounced outer or back blotches - blotches on the back of the petals. The phenomenon of back blotches has been unreported in the previous thousands of years of peony culture, presumably because until recently although back blotches have existed, albeit rarely, they have been small and insignificant. The presence of a white blotch on the back of the petals of a dark pink or purple coloured flower is not uncommon but the black back blotches on pale coloured petals is previously unremarked on.



Gansu Mudan fruit at various stages of ripeness.

Even after the seed has gone the empty seed pods are attractive.

The development of strong back blotches has great significance because they exhibit the characteristic feature of Gansu Mudan whichever way the flower is seen. This feature and its effect should not be confused with that of seeing the 'shadow', in bright light, of the inner blotches from the outside of the flower. The inner blotches and the petal shape interact to affect the internal appearance of the flower. When petals are wide at the base there are five blotches visible. When petals are sufficiently narrow at the base ten blotches are visible, a very different effect. In intermediate examples between each blotch is a spike of colour from the partly obscured blotch beneath.

Gansu Mudan flowers, especially single forms, where the inner blotches are most striking, are usually carried upright.

(vii) Fruit and Seed Single-flowered Gansu Mudan normally bear fruit well and so do most lotus and rose types. More complex doubles on the whole bear little or no fruit, nor do those that flower very late or plants whose pistils fail to develop well. Most if not all Gansu Mudan are self incompatible so isolated plants will rarely if ever produce viable seed. In general the seed pods of white flowers are quite smooth, usually pubescent and pale yellow-green, often with a reddish-brown seam as they develop. The seed pods of dark-coloured flowers are more dark grey-brown and often a bit wrinkled. Usually there are usually five follicles, which bend outwards during development of the seeds to form a flat star when the seed is ripe. At this stage the seed pods split, discharging some or all of the seeds although sometimes there is a sticky secretion inside which prevents the seeds falling and is a nuisance when collecting the seed. One thousand fat seeds weigh about 270gm, so there are 3,500-5,000 viable seeds per kilo. Seeds collected and not needed for sowing can be ground to obtain oil for cooking.

6.2 Features during growth: Annual and Overall Life Cycles

Gansu Mudan have been developed in a continental climate with cold dry weather and with slightly acid, loose and rich soil. However they are very adaptable and can be successfully and easily grown in many different environments.

Annual Life Cycle

The main factor affecting the germinating, initial growth and flowering of Gansu Mudan is the average temperature during the day. The flowering period can vary from year to year by up to 15 days, possibly more.

1. Initial growth period

This is from the first signs of dormancy breaking until the appearance of the first leaves. In early and mid March or earlier the buds start to change colour from brown to reddish and gradually expand. In Lanzhou this is while there are still



Comparison of (average) flowering times of Gansu Mudan between Lanzhou, Beijing, Stockport and Auch










Early flowering





Late flowering


03.05- 08.05



Seed ripe


26.07- 02.08



frosts and before the sap of most of the trees and flowers has started to flow. In Auch and in Stockport where the weather in Winter is unpredictable and much less severe there are signs of new growth in January, sometimes earlier but any leaves that appear before Spring are often damaged by later frosts.

2. New branch growing period

This is the period from the first leaf until new growth stops. Whether new branches (current-year's-growth) grow well or not depends both on the variety and on cultivation and management. Weak growth is common during the first two years after re-planting. After two years of good care, the plant recovers and then grows normally. Branches grow longer and thicker at the same time. Before flowering, the plants usually stop growing taller but horizontal growth stops later.

There are two kinds of new growth of Gansu Mudan: one produces branches with tip buds from leaf buds, the other produces new branches from flower buds. The latter do not produce strong buds beyond the lower part and in winter the upper part of the new growth dries up and shrivels. That is why it is said Mudan 'grow ten cun (about 30cm) and die back six cun'. New branch growth is usually bright red, turning to brown and green, and on flowering shoots stops when flower buds begin to develop. The new branches become woody as the flowers develop, sometimes not quickly enough to hold the developing flower upright.

3. Flowering period

The flowering process can be divided into seven stages:

i) Sprouting: mid and late March (at Lanzhou). The hard, dormant bud gradually changes colour and becomes bigger and the bud surface loosens. This period lasts about ten days.

ii) Bud expanding: the involucre starts to appear from the bud. If the plant is not strong enough or suffers from cold at this stage, then the bud may not develop further. This period lasts about 7 days.

iii) Aeolian bells: mid- and late April, the bud is about 1.2 to 1.5cm in diameter. (Leaves start to open.)

iv) Round boll: in early May the bud can quickly become as big as a cotton boll. After this period, buds become flowers according to the characteristics of varieties and the prevailing weather. This period lasts about 7 days.

v) Early flowers: this period lasts about 2 to 7 days from the first flower to about 25% of the buds in flower.

vi) Full bloom: this period lasts about 6 to 10 days from 25%-80% of the buds in flower.

vii) Late flower: about 3-5 days from when 80% of the flowers fall off until all the flowers are gone.



The times from the start of flowering to shedding of all flowers vary with varieties and with environmental conditions. The flowering period will be longer with lower temperatures and will be reduced by high temperatures and by rain during the flowering period. Even when the weather in a particular location is predictable and basically consistent quite small variations can change the flowering time for a particular plant by up to 8 days. Where the climate is unpredictable flowering times can vary from year to year by much more. Gansu Mudan in Beijing flower earlier than in Lanzhou but the flowering period is shorter due to the more rapidly increasing temperature. In Stockport some flower buds begin growth earlier but flowering finishes later due to erratic weather, with warm spells in winter and cold spells after growth has begun. In normal circumstances established Gansu Mudan do not have 'big' and 'small' flowering years.

4. Seed period

During the first 1 to 2 days of flowering, the anthers ripen and release pollen. As the flower opens fully the stigma start to secrete a sticky juice and become receptive. This period lasts 3-7 days or more. Most, possibly all, varieties of Gansu Mudan need cross pollination before they can produce fertile seed. The development of seed may be affected by wind or rain or insecticide spray during the flowering season.

Gansu Mudan bear strong and fat seed. If seed is not to be collected removing spent flowers seems to help plants flower better the next year. In order to get fat, sound seed, it helps to remove excessive, damaged and late flowers, and flowers on weak branches.

5. Leaf fall and dormant period

In late October and early November in Lanzhou leaves of Gansu Mudan to fall. If there is early frost, most leaves will turn yellow or red but do not fall for some time. Autumn colours can be spectacular but are unpredictable. In sustained winter conditions a strange effect sometimes occurs after the first frost, when some still green leaves on late growing branches become frozen and do not fall during the winter.

6. Root growth

Gansu Mudan transplanted in spring can produce new root hairs quickly enough to absorb nutrition and water to support bud and branch development although individual branches may die back. Roots stop growing during branch development and start to grow again after flowering has ended. Root growth speeds up when seed is ripe.

Overall Life Cycle

Gansu Mudan go through three stages from the moment they sprout: infancy, adulthood and old-age. During different stages, there are different cultivating and appreciating features.


Infancy of seedlings spans the period from germination to the plants first flowering after 4-7 years. In the first 1-3 years, Gansu Mudan grow very slowly above ground. It is mainly the roots that grow. The plant above ground may be only 4-15 cm tall. In years 4 to 7 the plant above ground starts to grow much more rapidly and may grow as tall as 60 cm, possibly more, and will usually begin to flower, although the form and colour of flowers may not yet be stable. In this period the supply of water especially in Spring is important. With adequate and timely water and a compound fertilizer the infancy period can be shortened.


The adult period of Gansu Mudan seedlings and of vegetatively propagated plants spans from when they start flowering regularly to when the flowering starts to slow down. It can be expected to last about a hundred years. During years 7 to 15 Gansu Mudan grow in size most strongly. New branch growth can (rarely) be as much as 60cm. The colour and form of flowers are basically stable for selection. During adulthood it is necessary only to prune to establish the form of the plant and to remove excessive basal shoots that are not wanted. From years 10 to 100 Gansu Mudan, as tall as a man and as wide, can be relied upon to produce a display of striking opulence without blowsyness that is argueably without equal.



A Gansu Mudan in early adulthood, about 12 years old; established, growing and flowering well and set to display its splendour every late Spring for longer than anyone will live to see it.

Gansu Mudan about thirty years old in fruit. The plants whose growth is unbalanced and being restricted can, if desired, safely be removed and replanted.

An old Gansu Muan. The thickness of the branches is indicated by a pen. Venerable plants continue to flower spectacularly but by this stage their overall size has ceased to increase. Also few shoots come from the base unless there is severe damage to the branch structure.


Gansu Mudan are shrubs of great longevity. Specimens over a hundred years old are still able to regenerate without attention as long as their circumstances remain favourable. However, basic care such as turning over the soil and adding organic fertiliser, removing weak and thin and any diseased branches and maintaining their space becomes important. In Gansu, in Yuzhong, Longxi, Lintao, and Linxia, Gansu Mudan over a hundred years old can be seen still flowering profusely.


Both of these topics can be covered briefly because Gansu Mudan are not difficult to grow successfully. There are many plants grown in cultivation that do require specific conditions, particularly plants which originate in extreme environments, but for many plants the compendious instructions sometimes given about cultivation are a poor substitute for a bit of common sense and are more a bizarre source of comfort for the reader than a necessary set of requirements for the plant. Gansu Mudan are very adaptable. Unless the environment is markedly unsuitable or their treatment markedly inappropriate they will grow well.

7.1 Cultivation

(i) Planting

(ii) Feeding and Pruning

(iii) Watering

(iv) Sunlight

(v) Transplanting

The ideal situation for Gansu Mudan is in deep, rich, open loam draining well but not particularly fast in a fairly sunny position with brisk air circulation. None of the three collaborating nurseries featured in Chapter 8 and which have experimented with and specialise in growing Gansu Mudan has exactly these conditions, so they are not essential. Obviously the more extreme the deviation from the ideal the less well plants will grow without remedial measures, but on the whole any half-decent site will do.



A young Gansu Mudan plant. This is actually a grafted plant about four years old which had adequate own-root when it was first replanted and the understock was removed. The stem colour shows the replanting depth and subsequent new root growth is indicated by the label. The important point to notice is that the total root structure is greater than the branch structure and is more-or-less undamaged in this case. This is an ideal situation, difficult to maintain when larger plants are moved.

So, in very loose, sandy soil add plenty of organic matter especially leaf-soil to provide nutriment and aid moisture retention; in heavy sticky clay add grit and again organic matter to aid drainage and encourage root growth.

(i) Planting

For plants on their own roots, simply dig a large enough hole (any shape will do) for the roots to be spread apart and unconstricted. Put the plant in, with the roots spread and at least partly descending and fill the hole burying the roots. Unless the soil is very nutritious some old organic manure mixed in the soil below the roots will be beneficial. Planting depth is not critical - the same as the plant was before or a bit deeper. Aim not to leave air pockets - some (damp) fine soil is useful. If (just to make the point) you want to grow a Gansu Mudan in a crevice between rocks make the best space you can and cram the roots in somehow. In this case choosing a relatively small plant would be sensible.

For grafted plants some extra considerations come into play. The aim with grafted mudan is for the scion to produce own root and for the (herbaceous peony) rootstock to atrophy and rot away. This is the opposite aim of most situations where plants are propagated by grafting, and it might be better to use the term understock instead of rootstock to emphasise this difference. So grafted mudan that have been grown on for a year or two but are still without adequate own root should be planted with the union at least 10cm below the soil surface even if this involves burying buds on the scion. (See 7.2 (ii).)

When transplanting seedlings and young plants there are several obvious things and one unexpected bit of advice to bear in mind. Before replanting, young (one to three year) seedlings may need to be trimmed to remove broken branches and any diseased root. It may be better to remove thin and weak branches from near the base. When shaping and trimming plants aim, where practicable, at slightly less total branch than there is root and to cut branches cleanly a little above a strong outer bud if possible. Give consideration to orientation, usually with the weaker side towards the sun so that balanced growth is encouraged. Do not remove soil

A grafted Gansu Mudan which has not been planted deeply enough and has made no own-root.

around the roots unless there is a need to do so for transportation. Bare rooted seedlings being transplanted can survive seven days exposure in natural light in summer or more than fifteen days in a cool dry dark place even though the root bark becomes shrivelled and wrinkled. Neither is recommended of course. However it is not a good idea to soak the seedlings for long before replanting. It is better to plant them in moist soil and then water at intervals promptly afterwards.

(ii) Feeding and pruning

The starting point in considering these two activities is that in the wild nobody feeds and



A grafted Gansu Mudan which has perhaps been dug up one year too soon. In this case we would remove part of the understock hoping that after replanting what was left would provide some support but would atrophy as the scion own-root developed.

A grafted Gansu Mudan three years old with plenty of own root so that the understock can be removed before replanting in a permanent position.

nobody prunes plants. Consequently if you have an urge to do either then the first question is not what or when or how but why.

In nutritious soil the need is to maintain nutrients, so a bit of almost any general purpose fertiliser will suffice. Bonemeal, calcified seaweed, blood fish and bone are all suitable, so are proprietory fertilisers and/or a mulch of old leaf-soil or old animal manure. The same materials are appropriate for thin, poor soil, where improving the soil condition is the aim so continued addition of organic bulk will be beneficial, as a mulch or lightly dug in. Restricted use of quick-acting

nitrogenous fertilizer in Autumn but some phosphate and potash fertilizer then helps plants to over-winter well and also helps to produce autumn leaf colour.

Die-back of twigs and sometimes even branches is a natural part of mudan growth and if unsightly can be removed whenever convenient. After transplanting some die-back should be expected. Unbalanced or unwanted or awkward growths can also be removed at any time - late Spring or early Summer is the best time for the wound to heal, and just above a strong bud is a useful rule of thumb. This can be combined with cutting flowers for indoor decoration. More substantial branch removal may be desired to improve the overall shape of a large plant or to help new growth to develop. This is probably easiest when there are no leaves so early Spring just as growth is beginning may be the best time. A large Gansu Mudan growing strongly will react well to almost any pruning but such a plant is so magnificent that what is appropriate is cautious, careful sympathetic pruning or none at all.

(iii) Watering

A plentiful, or at least adequate, supply of water in good time is important in Spring and early Summer when most new growth takes place, particularly for young and recently transplanted plants. For established plants this will usually mean actively watering only in exceptionally dry periods. Bear in mind that new root is formed during and following early Autumn so watering then may be appropriate.

(iv) Sunlight

Gansu Mudan grow best in sunny situations. The new growth ripens well and flower buds develop more reliably. However they cope very well with shade provided that the soil is at least decent and there is adequate moisture. Many wild plants of P. rockii grow in quite severe shade and experience dry conditions. In hot, humid and rainy places, especially those at low altitude, Gansu Mudan may suffer leaf diseases in August and September. In high, cold, shady and wet places, it would be better to grown them on slopes facing the sun. In extremely dry and hot places, flowers and leaves are likely to suffer and it would be better to grow Gansu Mudan on shady slopes or on the shady sides of buildings or big trees.



Three Gansu Mudan seedlings in early April in their second year of leaf growth, cultivated in large clay pots.

Detail of the above group: a single seedling plant.

(v) Transplanting

It is frequently said that "peonies do not like being moved". This is nonsense. Apart from pointing out that anthropomorphism about plants is rarely other than misleading, if the plant can be moved without damage of any kind then obviously it can be moved anywhere and any time. Avoiding damage of any kind would require moving the entire plant and its immediate landscape intact, which is impracticable. What usually happens is that some, often most, of the root structure is damaged or broken off when the plant is moved and so the ability of the root system to sustain the state, condition and growth of the branch and leaf structure is impaired. Bear in mind that even when there is no obvious sign of root damage most of the very fine active capillary roots will have been lost. Two things follow from this. The more the root system is damaged the more die-back of branches is likely and also the longer the plant will take to recover its previous state. As a general rule the root system underground is as extensive in size as the visible plant above ground and probably more densely branched, so digging up a large Gansu Mudan will usually inevitably result in the loss of much of its root and almost all of its active fine root. If this takes place during the time of active growth then a significant proportion of the branches and leaves should be removed and the replanting done at once. With care, and if circumstances demand it, Gansu Mudan in flower can be successfully transplanted bare-root. In this case speed and watering before and immediately after moving is advisable.

All that said, the best time for transplanting is late Summer, when leaves are changing colour and beginning to cease activity and before new fine root growth begins. At this time plants can survive for weeks out of the ground even with substantial root loss. Of course such treatment is not desirable but it demonstrates that to move them is not particularly risky. If immediate replanting in the desired position is not possible then temporary planting or heeling in or covering the roots with, for example, damp moss will be beneficial. At the very least store bare-rooted plants in a cool, shady place before replanting. Only relatively small plants move 'as if nothing had happened' but even very large plants, twenty or more years old can be moved fairly easily, albeit with a year or two to recover and with some die-back. For the first year after transplanting removing flower buds as soon as they begin to develop and paying particular attention to watering and feeding will aid recovery. In particularly hot weather after transplanting it would be beneficial to provide shade and possibly spray with water to prevent leaves drying off.

7.2 Propagation

All the traditional methods of propagation are viable options. Micropropagation has been successful in an experimental context and doubtless in time both this and tissue culture will be used for commercial propagation.

(i) Seed

(ii) Grafting

(iii) Division

(iv) Layering

(v) Cuttings

(vi) Micropropagation and Tissue Culture



The successful union of a two centimetre thick scion and slightly thicker understock after one side has been removed by sawing. In spite of the apparently perfect fusion we would have doubts about the ultimate viability of the plant unless the scion were to make its own roots.

(i) Seed

No special treatment is necessary to ensure germination. Planting seed when it is fresh, fairly soon after harvesting, will usually give the highest germination rate but seed that is several years old can also give high yields if it has been carefully stored (cold and dry). Simply plant Gansu Mudan seed a few centimetres deep in good quality soil or seed compost and leave outside through the Winter, with precautions against mice and voles if necessary. If seed is planted in open ground or in large pots then after germination it can be left until well established. Usually a root forms after the first winter and the first leaves after the second winter. Artificial cooling in a refrigerator can be used to mimic the effect of two winters outside and thereby save one year of waiting. Breaking the seed surface with a knife blade or with glass-paper before planting to facilitate the ingress of moisture may be worthwhile. Usually a single isolated plant will not produce viable seed. Where there are two or more plants and seeds are allowed to develop and are not collected self-sown seedlings will occur (unless the seed is eaten by mice or squirrels). Seedlings planted out (after one or two summers growth) in a favourable situation and with enough space (30cm spacing is enough) can be expected to flower two to five years later.

(ii) Grafting

This is the usual method for large-scale clonal commercial propagation and is usually done in August or September using root sections from (mascula/lactiflora type) herbaceous peonies as the understock. This grafting system, possibly unique to peonies, differs from that for other woody plants in that the understock is intended to be temporary. It provides supporting nourishment for the scion until the scion forms its own roots. Hence the use of 'understock' here instead of the more usual 'rootstock'. For the scion to make its own roots the union should be at least eight centimetres below the soil surface when planted, preferably more. Side wedge grafts onto herbaceous peony tubers as rootstock is the traditional and most common method. Side wedge grafts are used because usually the thickness of the scion is significantly different to that of the root section and a side wedge is the easiest way to make good contact between the critical inner bark layers although this may not be so important in this context. Details of the process such as scion and understock size, securing and sealing the join, treatment immediately after the union is made and subsequently, varieties to use as understock and so on vary greatly and seem to be more a case of local convenience and individual experiment than of necessity.

The unions should have calloused after about the fifth week. Ideally the scion makes own-root during the first one to three years and the understockstock atrophies. In some cases the understock grows on and this may be seriously detrimental. The appearance of herbaceous peony shoots, if it happens, is not in itself a problem because they are easily removed. However there is some evidence from our own experience that the scion and understock are ultimately not compatible. Continuing growth of the understock appears sometimes to inhibit the growth of own root by the scion. We have seen large plants flowering and apparently growing well die back completely over two or three years. When examined they have been found to have a large herbaceous rootstock and very little own root. Consequently we would recommend that grafted plants are planted deeply and then dug up after two to four years and the understock removed if it is still present. This will be unpalatable advice for many people though in fact it is not difficult and not very risky. The obvious remedy is to plant mudan that are on their own roots to begin with.



Seedlings of P. delavayi or P. ludlowii are sometimes used as rootstocks for conventional grafting. Shoots or suckers from such rootstocks I can be a problem as they may be more vigorous than the scion. One might just as well use seedling I Gansu Mudan but we are unaware of this having been done. Using only the root sections of such plants as rootstock may avoid the problem of I suckers but to obtain root sections large enough to match scions requires growing the rootstock plants for unacceptably many years.

The plant above after ,maximal' division. There are fourteen pieces of greatly varying shapes and sizes. Division to this extent is not necessarily recommended. Not all these pieces will survive although in this case one could be optimistic about most of them. Some of the existing branch growth should be removed but which parts and how much is not obvious. In many cases division is a two stage process taking several years. The divided pieces are grown on and the survivors trimmed and reshaped as and when there is new growth and they have re-established.

(iii) Division

Almost all Gansu Mudan once well established and growing strongly will produce new shoots at the base some or all of which may will develop into branches. These usually come directly from the main trunk even when they appear well to the side. The part of these branches that is beneath the soil surface will develop roots and they can be severed and grown on as a new plant. This is occasionally easy to do but usually much less straightforward than it seems. If the shoot comes from near the surface it may not have enough root. If it comes from lower down it is not so easy to remove without damage. Basal shoots on Gansu Mudan are almost always from the main branches and not from part of the root system as they are likely to be with Central Plains/Suffruticosa hybrids, and shoots which are not well rooted themselves often fail to grow on. 'Division proper' of the whole plant when dug up and the roots washed is usually less haphazard.

It is not possible to generalise about this method of propagation because although the extent to which an established plant can be pulled apart into viable pieces is often not obvious until the whole plant is dug up, but large plants rarely grow with a single stem and can usually be pulled apart. Sometimes a large plant

A vigorous Gansu Mudan about sixteen years old. The extent of the root loss is indicated by the sole undamaged root on the right, so although this plant is ideal for division the resulting plants/pieces will need two or three years to re-establish and begin growing strongly.



A Gansu Mudan cutting sixteen months after being taken. One of several successfully rooted by Chris Sanders. The compost surface after potting was above the lower buds.

A hormone rooting powder was not used but two short vertical slits were made in the bark at the base of the cutting. The evidence is inconclusive but it appears that there may be more root growth from the two slits than elsewhere.

breaks apart as it is being extracted to produce two or more elegant and perfectly viable plants which will grow on without much die-back. Sometimes large or small pieces cannot be separated with enough root and fail to survive or a very awkward shaped plant results which needs time and cutting back to produce something you want to live with. And of course the original plant has gone. Using very small new shoots with little root is effectively a form of micro propagation. It is relatively unsuccessful unless the tiny divisions are treated with care.

(iv) Layering

This is essentially a more cautious form of division. If part of a branch can be fixed below the soil surface it will usually develop roots and can be severed after two or three years and grown on. The buried part can be pegged to prevent movement but holding it down with a stone is better because it conserves moisture near the surface. The outcome is not entirely predictable. Sometimes the whole branch dies back, or the buried section to the tip

dies back. This is more likely when the branch cannot easily be bent into position. Sometimes a longer period is needed for adequate root to form. Cracking or wounding the branch where it is buried may be beneficial but it is not necessary. We never do it so we have no evidence from carefully controlled comparisons. For specimens with a spreading habit of growth this is usually the simplest method of clonal propagation.

There is an extreme form of layering, conveniently called 'trenching' that is sometimes appropriate, particularly for specimens with an upright habit. Here the whole plant is dug up and buried horizontally in a shallow trench a few centimetres below the soil surface. After two or three years the buried branch or branches will have rooted along their length and vertical shoots from nodes or buried buds will have developed. These small plants can be simply separated and grown on by cutting the original branch, possibly in situ without lifting the whole of the original plant. When this technique works well it is profoundly



satisfying. Occasionally of course the buried plant dies. This is immensely disappointing. Survival during trenching seems to be more likely when the branch tips are left exposed but doing this sometimes results in fewer shoots developing from underground. Here again, our comments are not based on careful, extensive, controlled experiments but summarize the outcome of ad hoc experiments.

(v) Cuttings

This is essentially the extreme form of division in that the severed pieces have no roots at all and consequently need much greater care to grow on successfully. Equally it is an extreme form of mi-cropropagation.

Although widely discounted as a propagation method, particularly by commentators who have not tried it seriously, hardwood (or semi-hardwood) cuttings can be rooted and grown on to clonally increase Gansu Mudan. A procedure was described in the 'Gardener's Chronicle', October 26, 1946 by Collingwood Ingram. Chris Sanders has recently been successful with a simpler procedure but using a heated propagator. The aim is to maintain an environment in which the cut twig survives to produce roots by the Autumn. The basic details are mid-summer new growth cut just into older wood; substantial but not total leaf reduction; some bottom heat but warm to cool ambient air temperature; quite high but not excessive humidity; a very porous but moisture retentive rooting medium for example mostly perlite with some peat; transfer to a growing-on compost the following Spring as top growth begins.

It is fair to say that mudan cuttings do not root as readily as most plants for which cuttings are the standard propagation method and that care is needed, particularly with the 'rooting environment'. The easiness of the grafting process once the necessary preparations for rootstock have been made and its reasonably high success rate even in rough and ready circumstances probably explains why cuttings are rarely used. This in turn explains why there has apparently not been extensive experimentation to determine the optimal timing and treatment for what is essentially a much simpler process.

(vi) Micropropagation and Tissue Culture

The laboratory process of producing tiny plant-lets from small shoots or from minute scraps of parent tissue in an artificial sterile medium is in itself nowadays not difficult. More problematic is growing them on to a viable size and ensuring that they subsequently develop well and grow normally. A successful regime for micropropaga-tion of what was probably a Gansu Mudan was devised at Wye College in Kent in the late 1980s. Some of the plants produced flowered after 2-3 years. The details can be found in a paper in the Journal of Horticultural Science (1991) 66 (1) 95 -102 by Harris, R.A. and Mantell, S.H.: Effects of stage II subculture durations on the multiplication rate and rooting capacity of micropropagated shoots of tree paeony (Paeonia suffruticosa Andr.)


Three nurseries are involved with this book about Gansu Mudan. But the involvement is unequal. The history of Peace Peony Nursery begins around 1961 when it was started by Chen Dezhong and its story, until now, is essentially his story. His adventures and unremitting effort devoted to his aims of greening bare landscapes and developing a group of tough, versatile mudan to use for that purpose (and others) could be the subject of a book in its own right. Instead we outline his story and in Section 3 let his achievement, the plants themselves, now becoming increasingly widespread and important, speak for him. Will McLewin at Phedar Nursery and Robert Pardo at La Pivoine Bleue have collaborated with Peace Peony Nursery since 1997 by experimenting with and testing Gansu Mudan in greatly different environments and growing regimes and by helping to demystify these legendary plants and introduce them in Europe, They share with Chen Dezhong a passionate enthusiasm for Gansu Mudan and for Mudan as a whole rather than the commercial production of particular varieties. They also share with Chen Dezhong a profound career change. They all left their established professions to get deeply involved with plants, particularly peonies, both for study and to make them more widely available.



Chen Dezhong and Chen Fuhui.

Will McLewin and Chen Dezhong at Peace Peony Nursery.

8.1 Peace Peony Nursery

In autumn, 1961, responding to the government's call for 'educated urban youth to go and work in the country and mountain areas to strengthen agriculture', Chen Dezhong resigned from his position of accountant for a factory workshop in Lanzhou City. He returned to the poor and drought-stricken district of his home town of Peace, determined to plant trees and shrubs to clothe barren hillsides. He studied at home to obtain a college degree in farming and forestry, became a senior forestry engineer and in 1967 began to build what became the Peace Peony Nursery. He experimented with, introduced and propagated trees suitable for the climate and barren hills of Northwest China. At the same time he began to develop new varieties, and in time a new group, of large-flowered, vigorous, versatile and tough mudan for the same purpose. He collected the old varieties of purple-blotched mudan from local areas, wild species mudan (now called P. rockii) from higher altitudes, introduced from Shandong and Henan varieties of Central Plains Mudan and began a long programme of inter-breeding.

In the early years of the nursery he explored the nearby hills and valleys in order to solve the water problem. Through the course of ten winters he managed to dig a self-flowing underground channel 150 metres long through the mountain to bring water to the nursery. To overcome the lack of light in the working tunnel he used ordinary mirrors to divert natural light. His exploration of wild peony species has continued, with field studies in provinces and regions such as Gansu, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hubei, Henan, Sichuan, Yunnan, Tibet and the northeast of China. These many expeditions often involved hunger and hardship but, together with experience growing and observing all the Chinese herbaceous and woody peony species at the nursery, they have given him a depth of first-hand knowledge of them that is unmatched by that of the many authors and academic botanists who have commented on and written about them and in many cases benefited from generous help and information freely given but rarely adequately acknowledged. He continues to lead a simple life of plain living guided by the aim of 'serving the people'.

Both his son Fufei and daughter Fuhui have been important in the development of the nursery. Chen Fuhui has been involved with all aspects, particularly propagation and seed storage and is currently the nursery manager. Many of the cultivar photographs in the book have been taken by her. Chen Fufei has organised the experimental cultivation of Gansu Mudan in different environments in Beijing.



Rows of seedling Gansu Mudan at the upper level of Peace Peony Nursery. In the distance is part of Lanzhou.Grafted Gansu Mudan (mostly) being grown on.

Gansu Mudan where once there was barren earth; created from nothing using nothing but effort and passion and 'the eye of faith'.

A significant strand in more ways than one in the story of Peace Peony Nursery is the involvement of Cheng Fangyun, initially an ambitious academic botanist at the Northwest Teaching University College at Lanzhao, now a professor at the Forestry University in Beijing and for a year in 1997 manager at the Nursery. While absorbing and building on Chen Dezhong's extensive knowledge of mudan he organised promotional literature which helped to make Peace Peony Nursery (and himself) better known. Using his knowledge of English and position as manager he sold abroad several thousands of small, medium and mature Gansu Mu-dan ordered from Peace Peony Nursery and kept all the money himself. When he left he took the nursery accounts and many of Chen Dezhong's mudan photographs, articles and letters. This episode in his career and the central role of Chen Dezhong in developing Gansu Mudan is glossed over in his own recent book on mudan.

During the forty years of its development the importance of Peace Peony Nursery has been formally recognised in various ways. It has been part of the postgraduate distance-learning course run by the Horticultural Department of the Beijing Agricultural Institute. In 1993 it was designated by the China Forestry Department as one of the three largest plant resources nurseries in the whole country and has been designated as one of the model foundation nurseries for plants of China. Chen Dezhong has participated in research



Mixed Gansu Mudan at Peace Peony Nursery.Chen Fufei.Chen Fuhui.

projects funded nationally and by the province of Gansu to investigate the ecological environment, altitude and biological properties of the natural distribution areas of wild Mudan. The nursery is regarded as the Demonstration Base for Production of Ziban Mudan by the National Plants Association and the Forestry Ministry. It has also been designated a 'scenery and tourist' location by the Province, City and County, and recognised as such by the National Travel and Tourist Bureau. Every year the Peace Peony Nursery receives study tours organised

by universities and colleges of higher education and visits by students on the training courses organised by the provincial administration and has become a base for collective research, production and education from outside the province. More recently it has received visits from horticultural experts from many countries and is now an essential part of the itinerary of peony tours from Europe and the United States.

Over 500 varieties of Gansu Mudan cultivated in the Nursery have obtained National Patents, International PCT patents as well as patents from the National Forestry Ministry. Peace Peony Nursery varieties are praised and admired by mudan specialists, scholars and enthusiasts worldwide although these admirers are often unaware of the origins of the plants. The range of colours and flower forms introduced is enormous, and easily overlooked now that seed from the plants developed initially at Peace Peony Nursery is collected and sown elsewhere to produce equally spectacular plants. The varieties with large blotches on the back is a development



Mixed Gansu Mudan at Peace Peony Nursery. Here, as at Phedar Nursery and at La Pivoine Bleue the guiding spirit is indulgence in the plants. Carefully controlled, regimented planting is considered, but never happens.

that deserves special mention. Seedlings, mature plants and grafted specimens have been exported to North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe. Particularly pleasing for Chen Dezhong is the widespread use of his plants in other parts of China such as the North-East Provinces, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Henan, Shanghai, Beijing, Shandong, Xinjiang and Wuhan. Almost all the Gansu Mudan now increasingly widely cultivated in gardens and nurseries in China and other countries have originated directly or indirectly in Peace Peony Nursery.

His own research outcome - the Near-Origin Integration Method Used in the Cultivation of Ziban (purple-blotched) Mudan - won a patent certificate from the State Patent Bureau of China in October 1995. In May the following year it was also certified as an international patent (PCT/ CN96).

Peace Peony Nursery is situated in the Peace Economic Development Zone in Yuzhong County south-east of Lanzhou. It is now close to a motorway and about 10km from the city centre, 15 km from Lanzhou Railway Station and 90 km by motorway from Zhongchuan (Lanzhou) Airport. It is located in a branch of the Xinlong Mountains Range where it is said 'three mountains gather and two dragons meet'.

From 7 hectares of barren land initially, Peace Peony Nursery has gradually reclaimed more of the adjacent hillsides. There are now about 70 hectares under various degrees of cultivation, about two-thirds of which is devoted to mudan and one third to trees for greening bare land. There is a ten hectare display nursery with over seven hundred mudan varieties and two hectares where all the wild species are grown. The future development is not entirely clear. The nursery has always been a part of the local community and parts of the cultivated land have been used for local economic development. Another area is now a cemetery which, ironically, provides significant income. The city, county and provincial management have plans to further expand the nursery as a more formally arranged mudan exhibition garden and general arboretum as a visitor and tourist attraction and as a 'dragon enterprise' in mudan cultivation. There are also plans to expand the experimental side of the nursery's activities in other locations with very different environmental conditions. This development would support the 'Maxian Mountain High and Cold Mudan Nursery' and 'Jinshixia Dry Land Mudan Nursery', with a combined area of over 240 hectares, that Chen Dezhong began to establish in 2002. As these two sites become productive there will be mudan in flower from the late April into July and the objective will be to produce and select new varieties of Mudan even more adaptable to cold and to dry weather and even more versatile in their usages and which extend the flowering season. Chen Fuhui will probably manage the restructured Peace Peony Nursery and Chen Fufei may move from the experimental nursery at Beijing to manage the other sites. Chen Dezhong is also working on another project, a study of medicinal uses of wild plants readily available.

The nursery soil is a very deep loess loam, pH 8.1 that drains quite well and cracks as it dries into lumps which crumble easily and evenly into very fine dust. All plants, seedlings and grafts, are grown directly in open soil. Altitude is 1780m, annual rainfall is 35cm, mostly in Spring and Autumn. The seasons, in the continental climate, are predictable, with frost or snow rare after the end of the long, severe winters. Spring and autumn are short and there are only about 155 frost free days. Extreme temperatures are 35 and -25°C. The corresponding numbers for the trial nursery at Beijing are 50m, 50cm, 190 and 40 and -14°C.



Will McLewin, Eric Stead, Hu Xiaoling

8.2 Phedar Research and Experimental Nursery

Phedar Nursery was effectively established in 1986 by the acquisition of its present site, an awkward, sloping bit of land near Stockport 13 km south-east of Manchester in sight of the Pennine hills. About half of the 1.5 hectares is terraced for intensive cultivation, the other half is too steep and dark but provides interesting inauspicious situations for trial growing of plants. The specialities are helleborus species and herbaceous paeonia species . The aim of the nursery is to examine taxonomic problems and horticultural questions by growing only authentic wild-collected examples of different species in the same conditions and to make reliably named and identified plants availale. Few plants are grown simply for sale but usually plants surplus to study requirements are available. It also specialises in Gansu Group peonies and mudan species.

The work on helleborus species is based on over 17 years visiting the Balkans for fieldwork before, during and since the troubles in former Jugoslavia. Over 300 wild locations have been involved in observing and collecting specimens and seed. The taxonomy of acaulescent hellebores is particularly problematic and Phedar Nursery is recognised in many countries as a unique source of information and insight and for shedding light on the problems if not yet always on solutions. Many botanic gardens and hellebore students and enthusiasts have contacted or visited the nursery to obtain reliably named species plants.



A excellent Gansu Mudan at Phedar Nursery: not Paeonia rockii and not 'Rock's Peony', not even, strictly a 'P. rockii hybrid'. In fact, an unnamed seedling. It could be named but doing so would not make any difference to the plant or to the esteem in which it is held.

Margaret Walty at Phedar Nursery in pursuit of He Ping Er Qiao and other Gansu Mudan.

Gansu Mudan at Phedar Nursery.

With peonies the approach has been different because such sustained fieldwork has not been practicable. Visits to Italy, Balkan countries, Russia, Georgia and China have helped to build a network of botanists to collect wild seed. The cause of growing, studying and enjoying true examples of species peonies has been served by making the results of their combined efforts widely available to peony enthusiasts who care about such things. Phedar Nursery's involvement, latterly an obsession, with Gansu Mudan began with the conviction that most of what was said about P. rockii and 'Rock's peony' was inaccurate and that there were many similar or associated plants that should be better known and more widely available. Once involved with Gansu Mudan the plants themselves took over, leading to arrangements with Peace Peony Nursery and La Pivoine Bleue Nursery and to a passionate enthusiasm that shows no signs of abating.

Accuracy of nomenclature remains a guiding principle of Phedar Nursery. It is fuelled by the apparent indifference to such matters by almost all media commentators, sustained by a willingness to live with nomenclature problems until sufficient firsthand evidence has been accumulated, and demonstrated by open and explicit comments and guidance in all the literature and lists they produce.



Will McLewin was a mathematics lecturer at Manchester University for 27 years before leaving to work full-time with plants. He is, or more precisely was, an accomplished alpinist, the first British mountaineer to climb all the 4000metre peaks of the Alps without guides, many solo. He continues to struggle to play the French horn, nowadays only in chamber music. The nursery would probably not have survived, certainly not have flourished, without the help and advice of Eric Stead, a biologist and friend who also has cheerfully succumbed to the splendours of Gansu Mudan. Another vital source of help and advice, particularly with contacts and all matters Chinese is the academic linguist and lecturer Dr Hu Xiaoling. Her main research area is the historical development of the Chinese language but recently she too has developed expertise in and enthusiasm for Gansu Mudan.

The soil at Phedar Nursery, mostly about pH 6.5, is a shallow woodland loam over very heavy clay or rocky shale. The seasons are ill-defined and the overall climate pleasant and moderate but very unpredictable and quite often wet. Winters are mostly fairly mild, usually with short cold periods and some unseasonal warm spells. Of the average 38 days with air frost some quite late in Spring are usual but rarely prolonged. Average extreme temperatures are -6 and 30°C, although -12 and 33°C have been recorded. The average through the year of hours of sunshine is 3.8 per day. The average annual rainfall of 90cm can come as sustained heavy rain or even more sustained fine drizzle. Recent Springs have been unhelpfully dry and summer weather can be almost anything.

[94] 094

8.3 La Pivoine Bleue

A passion for peonies of all kinds precipitated Robert and Nicole Pardo's change from dealing in fine art to running their increasingly influential specialist plant nursery in SW France. La Pivoine Bleue was established in 1995 near Auch in the Gers region of Gascony in sight of the eastern Pyrenees mountains. Since then the range of peonies they grow and propagate has steadily increased and includes new herbaceous varieties originating in France to complement the many more traditional varieties. Following the establishment of cooperative links with Peace Peony Nursery and Phedar Nursery, Chinese peonies, especially Gansu Mudan, both grafted and from seed, are now the main focus of their work. However all peonies, woody, intersectional or herbaceous, and particularly the true wild species, are welcome inhabitants at La Pivoine Bleue, partly to be grown experimentally and partly to be made available when possible. They are ably assisted in all the nursery activities by Coralie Christiani, particularly with recording and photographing new plants as they develop and flower. By exhibiting at major plant fairs like those at Courson their medal winning displays of peonies have helped to make Gansu Mudan and the wild species better known. All their plants, peonies and a range of unusual bulbs and perennials many from wild seed, are grown outside, some in open ground, some in , raised beds or enormous tubs of prepared soil. This approach, like that at Peace and Phedar nurseries ensures strong plants that will grow on well and contributes to demonstrating the versatility (and the splendours) of Gansu Mudan.

The soil, pH 6.5, is a heavy clay that supports mudan well once they arel established although the natural drainage is barely adequate. They have basically a Mediterranean climate with mild winters (unlike those of Gansu). The annual rainfall of 12cm is barely sufficient and although it comes mostly I when it is needed in Spring and Autumn the hot and dry Summers are sometimes fierce enough to ; induce early dormancy in the mudan plants. The temperature is normally in the range 7 to 17C but up to 35°C can be expected in Summer and -14°C has been recorded in Winter.



Margaret Walty at Phedar Nursery.

Nursery Contact Details

Peace Peony Nursery:

Chen Fuhui


(Note Burkhardt 2006: McLewin does not publish the Peace Peony Nursery's website address, unless they have it and it works since years. Does he want to keep this as a secret and prevent people buying directly from China. Should people buy only from him at his prize level??)

Phedar Research and Experimental Nursery:

Will McLewin

Address: Phedar Research and Experimental Nursery

42 Bunkers Hill, Romiley, Stockport, U.K. SK6 3DS

Telephone and Fax: (0044) (0) 161 430 3772


La Pivoine Bleue:

Robert and Nicole Pardo

Address: La Pivoine Bleue, A Sechan Dessus, 32550 Montegut, France

Telephone and Fax: (0033) (0) 5 62 65 63 56


ww w.pi voine-bleue. com







9.1 Classification of cultivars and classification characters 97

9.2 Cultivar names 100

9.3 The use of cultivar names in practice 102

10. GANSU MUDAN CULTIVAR PICTURES, arranged by colour and form 104


9.1 Classification of cultivars and classification characters

It seems to us helpful to arrange the cultivars illustrated into categories in terms of flower colour and flower form. This gives a basic structure to the list overall and makes comparisons, and possibly finding alternatives, easier. It also demonstrates more clearly the relatively small differences between basically similar varieties. Any characteristic is manifested in practice essentially as a continuum so that when discreet categories are chosen there are many intermediate or ambiguous examples. A few minutes spent arranging cultivars into a usefully small number of recognised colour and form categories is enough to show that it cannot be done entirely consistently. So this arrangement should not be taken very seriously.

Also classification of varieties should not be confused with specification of individual varieties. Specification entails description of many morphological and horticultural characters: flower colour or colours and flowering period; flower form including petals, stamens (anthers and filaments); carpels (stigma, follicles and seed); leaves (overall structure and individual

leaflet shape, colour at various times); growth (upright or spreading, few or many twigs and branches, slow or vigorous); ecological uses and environmental tolerances. Other characters may be significant, hairs on leaves or leaf veins, stickiness of various parts, and so on.

It is possible with peonies, especially with Gansu Mudan to produce 'spurious precision': a detailed description of a plant that it frequently does not wholly comply with. In many cultivars the flower colour changes during the life of the flower, opening pink and becoming white for example. For the more complex or more developed forms the appearance of the flower and the impression it gives change considerably as it opens and expands. Young plants often display variation in many characters, particularly flower form but also flower colour, both from year to year and between individual flowers. For some varieties where we have suitable photographic evidence there are two or more pictures but this is to draw attention to this possibility not to these particular plants. Also flower characters may change noticeably when a plant is moved to a different environment. This character trait of mudan is both important to emphasise and difficult to put in perspective. Perhaps it is best summarised by saying that in normal circumstances (whatever that might mean) mudan can be expected to




grow and appear as pictured but that variations should not come as a great surprise and may be transient. For Gansu Mudan there is the further considerable complication of the basal blotches on the petals. They vary in shape and size and colour and form from variety to variety and can also vary in appearance from year to year.

Partly for these reasons we have not attempted to provide detailed prose specifications for cultivars. The classification by colour and form gives basic information and the pictures give a lot more that does not need to be repeated in words. For varieties that have been observed to flower noticeably earlier or later than most or grow noticeably more upright or more spreading than most or are more vigorous this is indicated in the main list of pinyin names 11.1.

1) Classification by colours

The almost traditional classification of mudan flower colours in China is white, yellow, green, pink, red, purple, black, blue and blended. The way these labels are assigned needs some explanation. White is not as simple as it may seem. It has to include white with a very faint trace of blue or pink but where the tinge of another colour pervades much of the flower it is put with that other colour, or with blended. There are no true yellow Gansu Mudan (so far) but a few cultivars look at least cream, especially when placed beside clear white flowers, and these are classified as yellow. Similarly there are no really green flowers, just a few with green tips or which look particularly green as they open before turning white. Pink poses severe problems. When does dark pink become red or purple and when does faintly bluish pink become blue? In China red is used more freely, for flowers which have shades of other colours, and particularly for dark pink. There are actually very few mudan which are clearly a true red. And think how many names there are in English^ for different reds or near reds. Purple, when applied to mudan, is very rarely the true 'royal purple'. Instead it is used for 'bluish reds or pinks'. There are no truly blue mudan, although some recent cultivars are impressively close. Most so-called blue mudan are bluish-pink, or pinkish-blue. Some might be called mauve if that word could be used without its pejorative implication. Black, here as elsewhere, means

simply 'very dark' and even then it really means 'relatively dark'. Blended is used for flowers that are clearly a mixture of two (or more) colours apart from the dark blotch and sometimes this is clearly the case. But the blotches complicate things greatly. Almost always the edge of a black blotch will be purple or crimson and sometimes the blotch appears to bleed out into the main part of the petal to give a bicolour effect. We have opted to classify red, purple and blue fairly consistently and distinct from pink. Consequently pink includes wide colour variation.

The classification into colours here is an uncomfortable compromise between Chinese and Western conventions that is meant to be fairly consistent and helpful rather than definitive. Exactly the same applies to the grouping of varieties into different flower forms.

2) Classification by flower forms

The development of complex flower forms is a phenomenon of cultivation. In general mutations of flowers from the simple form with an open bowl of petals and normal male and female parts are less fertile and less likely to be fertilised and so when they occur in the wild they do not persist. In cultivation abnormal mutations are actively sought and propagated. Gansu Mudan do not have the long and intensive history of cultivation and directed breeding of Central Plains hybrid. Consequently the range of flower forms is not so extensive so a smaller list of flower forms than that described in, for example, ^Chinese Tree Peony/ (see chapter 2, p. 24) is adequate.

The development from the 'single' flower form of the wild species happens in three ways. There can be extra petals, more-or-less the same shape, either simply some extra petals to the normal ten or extra complete whorls of petals. The stamens can become petaloid, to a greatly variable extent. The carpels can become petaloid, again in a variety of ways. As with flower colour any categorisation into different forms involves compromises and there are ambiguous varieties. The possibility for more complex or more developed flowers seems to be an inherent character of mudan and it is not particularly unusual for plants in cultivation to produce more complex flowers when they become well




established and are growing strongly. Different flower forms can sometimes occur on the same plant or the same branch or from year to year. Even true wild plants of P. rockii have occasionally been seen to exhibit some degree of doubling in flowers when grown in favourable conditions in cultivation.

The names given to the more traditional different mudan flower forms are names of other genera, which is both irritating and unhelpful. To say a mudan flower has rose form is no more useful than saying a certain rose has mudan form. However this is simply a question of convention and is separate from three other complications. There is no name so far for single flowers with just a few narrowly petaloid stamens among the normal stamens. This is presumably regarded as an aberrant transient form intermediate between single and some form of double. There are some flowers which have what is called proliferate form. When analysed closely they appear to have one flower imposed in the centre of another almost complete flower - two sets of petals separated by and separating two sets of stamens but only one set of carpels. Proliferation is totally different to fasciation, where two or more flowers are fused together side by side. Proliferation can occur with most double forms but in most cases this complex structure is not obvious. There is also an intermediate double form called 'golden circle' with the central petals, apparently petaloid stamens, still surrounded by a ring of normal or narrowly petaloid stamens. Here, these three forms of flower development and yet more subdivisions are subsumed in the more common traditional forms. There is a much more detailed discussion of flower form in "Chinese Tree Peony' in the context of the Central Plains (suffruticosa) Group.

(1) Single form: 2 whorls of normal, wide, large and fairly flat petals; stamens and carpels usually normal, rarely abnormal; fertile. Some varieties with a few narrowly petaloid stamens are included in this form.

(2) Lotus form: 3-4 whorls of normal wide and large petals, neatly arranged; stamens and carpels usually normal, rarely abnormal; fertile.

(3) Rose form: more than 4 whorls of normal petals that are wide and neat, large but becoming smaller from the outside towards the centre; and stamens usually reduced in number and sometimes some petaloid, carpels usually slightly petaloid; usually fertile. Here this group has been extended to include the similar but slightly less developed form called chrysanthemum and some proliferate varieties.

(4) Anemone form: 2 outer whorls of wide, large and neat petals; stamens are mostly or entirely petaloid, mostly narrow, sometimes with anthers on the tips of these petals; carpels normal or reduced and petaloid; occasionally proliferate; usually fertile.

(5) Crown form: 2-5 outer whorls of normal petals; stamens completely or almost completely variously petaloid, sometimes some still with anthers; carpels largely or completely petaloid; the inner petals raised to form a crown shape; usually not fertile.

(6) Globular form: stamens are completely petaloid and resembling normal petals; carpels petaloid or absent; outer petals sometimes reflexed; overall shape round or even oval; not fertile.

3) Classification by blotches

For the simpler flower forms where the blotches are clearly visible a further stage of classification is possible, using the descriptions of blotches needed for more detailed cultivar specification. The seven colours of the blotches are light red, dark red, brownish red, bluish, purple, black and blended. Blotches are frequently blended in the sense of having a different coloured edge. There are various blotch shapes, including round, ovoid, elliptical, rhomboid, triangular, open V-shape. Then there is the question of solid or hollow blotch, there is the nature of the edge of the blotch from neat and precise to feathery or bleeding out and the size of the blotch either absolute or relative to the petal size. And then there are the back blotches. Thankfully the pictures can speak for themselves on most of these details, except to make the point that while the blotches are mostly obscured in some of the more developed double forms, when the petals fall they are spectacularly revealed, and resemble the plucked feathers of an exotic bird.




It is important to point out that the blotches, like the flower form, can in some cases vary from year to year and tend to be larger when the plant is flourishing. There is some evidence to suggest that this effect is greater with back blotches.

Additional information is given in the main cultivar list 11.1. We emphasise again that classification into colour and form categories is in many individual cases debateable and is intended to be helpful rather than taken very seriously.

9.2 Cultivar Names

Gansu Mudan names have three parts:

1. The actual given name in Chinese Characters.

2. The name in pinyin. This is the name that should be used as a name 'in English'.

3. A version of the name in English to convey the approximate meaning.

The translation of plant names from one language to another is often problematic because the name may have cultural implications beyond the words themselves. The collection of Chen Dezhong and Chen Fuhui's names for Gansu Mudan cultivars is an impressive achievement in itself. Translation of their names into English involves two profound problems. The first concerns the great differences in the two languages. The second comes from the poetic or allusive or idiomatic nature of many of the names.

To begin with the two languages: just as in English, individual Chinese words/characters often have multiple meanings or at least multiple interpretations that depend on the context in which they are used. (Strictly the terms 'word' and '(Chinese) character' do not mean the same but here we can gloss over the difference and regard them as interchangeable.) For example, jade is used to mean more than simply the semiprecious stone that is carved for ornaments. The character for jade is used to signify value or

beauty. More bizarrely when used adjectivally, it has unpredictable implications. A particular case is the phrase 'jade building' which does notl necessarily signify a luxurious or magnificent I building but one where (historically) young girls I live. Consequently particular noun characters need to be translated differently according to the | context and apparently inconsistently. Another very significant difference is that noun characters do not have plural forms and verb characters do not conjugate. So 'zhu' can mean pearl or pearls and 'peng' can mean hold or holds or holding or held. In prose passages, the particular meaning may simply be implied or may be indicated by characters preceding or following, but such characters are absent in the plant names.

The names of Gansu Mudan themselves are in many cases more complicated than Western plant names. They have a poetic quality that is rare in Western plant names and they draw on a very wide range of images. While other groups of cultivar names will include references to animals we doubt that camels will make an appearance elsewhere. Frequently more than one image or idea is involved but because definite and indefinite articles ('the' and 'a/an') are absent in the plant names, and prepositions like 'on' and 'of and! 'with' and conjunctions such as 'and' are mostly absent, the most appropriate English equivalent is not obvious. (The absence of definite and indefinite articles applies to the Chinese language as a whole, not just to plant names. There is nol definite article and a character equivalent to the indefinite article is used very rarely.) There are aj few names with characters from stories and only very occasionally names of individuals, friends, etc. There are no consciously clever or smart names and the ubiquitous practice of choosing 'enticing' names to encourage sales is entirely absent. Some plant names are well-known Chinese idioms. In contrast with broadly similar western idioms or sayings the meaning is often not obvious and not accurately translatable in less than a paragraph. \ Many consist of four characters/syllables and this colloquial feature has clearly influenced many of the names given to Gansu Mudan cultivars. For names which are idioms more or less well known in China we have mostly not tried to replace them with alternative names which have




similar meanings in English. Instead, for such names and for names that evoke events in stories, ancient or modern, we have indicated this in the main cultivar list, 11.1, provided an approximate literal translation and added a comment in 11.2 outlining the background context.

It is important to appreciate that the names that should be used for cultivars are the pinyin names. The English equivalents in 11.1 are provided to explain the meaning of the Chinese name but are not intended as replacement names in English and should not be used as such. The pinyin names themselves are ambiguous because each word in pinyin represents several Chinese characters. For example, the pinyin word 'hong' can mean 'red' or 'rainbow' or 'huge'. Some particular meanings can be identified when the pronunciation tone is indicated but one pinyin word with one particular tone may have several distinctive meanings. Clearly one can guess that some meanings are inappropriate in the context of flower names. Such problems are of course not unique to Chinese and have to be faced in any translation process. But when what is being translated is groups of three or four characters forming the name such problems are particularly acute. In providing English equivalents we have tried wherever possible to give the simplest and most direct meaning while retaining something of the Chinese character. In a few examples where the simplest literal English equivalent has an idiomatic implication, pejorative for example, unintended in the Chinese name we have been a little more imaginative.

Most of the Chinese names are chosen to convey a fairly complex or poetic vision with three or four characters which when spoken are pleasingly euphonious. A detailed analysis of the whole collection of names would be an interesting exercise in itself but is inappropriate here. However it is insightful to outline several types of names which occur fairly frequently. One consists of two distinctive ideas, typically two nouns with adjectives or other modifiers. As an example, 'Bin Shan Xue Lian' is literally 'ice mountain snow lotus' and in most cases we have not changed the English equivalent from this simplest form. But there are several other versions which are equally valid such as 'ice mountains snow lotuses' or 'icy mountain snowy lotus' or 'snow lotus of ice mountain' or 'icy mountain with snow lotus' and so on. A similar category is one noun with two adjectives or modifiers. A third category where the most appropriate equivalent is less clear consists of names that involve a verb character, for example 'Hong Lou Gang Jin'. The literal equivalent is 'red building hide gold' which is prosaic and inelegant. The two obvious alternatives are 'red building hides gold' and 'red building hiding gold' one or other of which we have in general preferred. There are slightly more inventive and equally valid possibilities such as 'gold hidden in red buildings' and we note in passing that the two characters for 'red building' actually denote a building or part of a building where, in earlier times, the young girls of a prosperous extended family would live and the 'hidden gold' would actually refer to the young girls and not actual gold pieces. Names with two verb characters are even more problematic. In a fourth category are names which are Chinese idioms where the literal equivalent is largely meaningless or quite unlike the understood meaning. An example is the four characters of 'Qian Zi Bai Tai'. The characters for Qian and Bai are those for thousand and hundred and Zi Tai means posture. This phrase to a Chinese person conveys the idea that in a large assemblage of basically similar objects each one does have an individual character so this phrase could be said of clouds in the sky or flowers at the market or a range of mountains but more debatably of the famous terracotta warriors at Xian. A fifth category that cannot meaningfully be translated simply has names that are phrases invoking scenes or characters or events from Chinese legends, both ancient and relatively recent. A splendid example is 'Yu Lu Lian Dan', literally 'jade stove make immortality pills'. This is one of several Gansu Mudan names which come from very famous and fantastical sixteenth century story 'Xi You Ji' (Journey to the West) in which the Monkey King (Wu Kong) steals and eats the magic pills that the Emperor in Heaven had ordered to be made in the Jade Stove to make him immortal.




Particular pinyin words (corresponding to particular Chinese characters) that occur frequently with an implied meaning beyond the literal meaning include:

'Yu'. This word appears in over 60 names. Literally it means jade but in a poetic or imaginative sense it is used adjectivally to mean' something valuable or special or beautiful. So 'Yu Pan' is literally jade plate and in 'Yu Pan Fen Zhu' jade plate is what is meant, but in 'Yu Lou Gang Jiao', literally 'jade building hide lady', the building is not made of jade nor even necessarily has the colour of jade but 'Yu Lou' is the part of a house where the unmarried girls would live. Note that jade itself can be green or white and is also used as a girl's name.

'He' and 'Lian' both meaning lotus are sometimes used as part of a flower name even when the cultivar does not have lotus form.

'Jin' meaning gold is used rather like Yu (jade) to signify something valuable or splendid or special or strong and is often used in conjunction with other colours. It is used both as a noun and as an adjective, much as gold is used in English in fact. So in 'Yu Guan Jin Zhu', literally 'jade crown gold pearl', 'gold' means neither the metal nor the colour but signifies 'splendid' or 'magnificent' (the same is true with 'jade' in this example). In 'Jin Cheng Wan Xia', the character for 'gold' when combined with 'Cheng' (city) indicates 'impregnable fortress'.

The literal meaning of 'lou' is 'building' but in the context of plant names the building is rarely a simple house so we have usually translated this word as 'pavilion'. In many cases, the other characters in the name imply a building with some special significance, typically containing something precious and, yet again, often the building where the young girls of an extended (and prestigious) family live.

'Xian' literally meaning 'thread' appears in several names. When it is with the noun 'nu'

(woman or lady) the implication is that the lady is weaving, so 'Zi Xian Nu' means 'a woman weaving with purple thread'. As there is no English word meaning 'female weaver' we have chosen the simple equivalent of 'thread lady'.

One name that perhaps deserves some detailed comment is 'Shu Sheng Peng Mo', if only because it has become a fashionable name that is used (usually incorrectly) for any single white flower with a strong blotch. The usual translation is 'scholar holding ink' but 'Shu Sheng Peng Mo'is far from simple. 'Shu' signifies 'to write' or 'book' and in conjunction with other characters signifies various sorts of written or printed documents both personal and official. 'Sheng' indicates aspects of life including 'birth'. 'Shu Sheng' together is somewhat archaic expression meaning more al student or bookworm or pedant than a scholar in the modern sense of the word which implies a level of distinction or achievement. 'Peng' and | 'Mo' mean literally 'to hold' and 'ink' but when used with 'Shu Sheng', 'Mo' means not literally 'ink, in a bottle' but the (usually black) stone with a saucer-like hollow in which a student would put water and then grind in the hollow with another stone called an ink stick. So 'Shu Sheng Peng Mo' could be translated 'Bookworms hold inkstones'.

In many of the names of Gansu Mudan there are characters/pinyin words that appear in other names, indeed the whole of some names appear as part of another name. This should be regarded as simply coincidence. It does not imply a 'parental' connection between plants or a connection as part of a 'breeding programmme' j or a 'strain' or even a basic similarity. Each name should be regarded as an independent entity. Also, while some names are descriptive of flower most are not, and even colours appearing as part of the name are not necessarily accurately indicative of the actual flower colour.

9.3 The use of mudan cultivar names in practice.

Ideally, perhaps, a named mudan cultivar would be propagated vegetatively so that all plants bearing the name are genetically identical and




hence are botanically/morphologically identical and have the same basic form and cultural requirements. The term 'cultivar' is neither synonymous with nor equivalent to 'variety' but effectively supersedes and replaces it. A cultivar can be a clone but the concept explicitly covers assemblages of plants which are very similar (overall or in a particular aspect). In practice, while Gansu Mudan are grafted quite extensively they are also widely grown from seed and 'identified' when they flower. Subsequent vegetative propagation of such plants complicates the situation. This tradition, by no means confined to Chinese horticulture, of regarding similar looking plants as equivalent or interchangeable, results in variation among mudan labelled with the same name. The recently introduced concept of a 'cultivar group' in a sense codifies and condones the practice. Of course the questions of context and degree are critically important. To some extent the practice is not unreasonable and much of the time it is inconsequential. There seems little doubt that it is widespread in China and on the whole tolerated there although this is not said in its defence. Consequently the cultivar names should to some extent be regarded as names for types, or even as the names of cultivar groups. There are, of course, particular plants to which the cultivar name was given, and clones of them which absolutely correctly carry that name. However in many cases, particularly with the more popular or more common cultivars, plants will have been labelled with a name when they are not clones of the original but are only more-or-less similar. The problem of accuracy of cultivar names is no worse for paeonia than any other genus and there is a parallel problem with species plants. Labels with species names are attached to plants when in fact they are cultivated hybrids and have only a vague or merely presumed connection with the species in question.

There is a simple solution to this nomenclature problem. Unless there is precise and rigorous provenance to justify the name on the label a word such as 'type' should be added. Thus Paeonia xx type would mean: this may be P. xx; or this looks more-or-less like what we believe P. xx looks like; or when we received this plant it was labelled P. xx; or P. xx has or may have been involved at some stage in the production of this plant; or this plant is, for horticultural purposes, equivalent in some sense, possibly even better than P. xx; or a mixture of all of these, but it is not possible to say with certainty that this is a true example of the plant to which the name P. xx was originally given. Such a designation, if widely adopted, would carry no derogatory implication. Quite the reverse, it would commend the integrity of the person responsible for the label. And it would be appropriate more often than not for plants in cultivation. Instead of 'type' the word 'group' could perhaps be used thus making explicit the implications of this relatively recent concept.

Returning to Gansu Mudan, the many cultivars illustrated and the corresponding long lists of names underlines the approach of the nurseries featured in Chapter 6, and of Peace Peony Nursery in particular. From a commercial or even simply practical point of view there are too many names and in some cases differences are not greatly significant. However the main motivation of all three nurseries is the development and testing of the Paeonia Gansu Group as a whole and all such plants that arise are regarded with affection. Bearing in mind that there are four basic variable morphological characters, the flower colour, the flower form, the blotch colour and form and the natural growth form of the plant there will undoubtedly be many more distinct cultivars named. The illustrations here of as yet unnamed plants and the present absence of strong yellows and some character combinations make this clear. In fact of the plants that have been named at Peace Peony Nursery less than two thirds are illustrated and listed here. Intensive commercial exploitation of Gansu Mudan has already begun in other places exploiting, quite rightly the vigour, versatility and outstanding ornamental value of the plants: building on if seldom acknowledging Chen Dezhong's achievement.




[10. GANSU MUDAN CULTIVAR PICTURES, arranged by colour and form]