Woody (Tree) Peonies

Very early in his peony breeding endeavors, Professor Saunders also began crosses with woody peonies. These peonies were (and still are by many) referred to as tree peonies but because they are multistemmed and short, “woody” or “shrubby” are more accurate terms (as Saunders himself wrote).  The American Peony Society encourages the use of the term “woody”. The woody peonies cultivated for centuries in Japan and China were referred to as the Moutans, including suffruticosas (no longer recognized as a species by taxonomists) ranging in color mostly from white through pink.  Current taxonomists use the term Moutan to refer to the entire section of woody peonies with the suffruticosas in the subsection Vaginatae. 

China is also the home of the subsection Delavayanae, including P. delavayi with red and orange flowers, and P. lutea, P. ludlowii, and P. potaninii with yellow flowers.  Saunders apparently had forms of at least three of these species – delavayi, lutea, and potaninii (photographed by Silvia Saunders in 1934 under the name forestii trolliodes) but may not have used the latter in his breeding program.  Saunders crossed various Moutans with P. delavayi or P. lutea to produce a wider range of colors and patterns. He called these lutea hybrids, a term still applied today.  Most notable were the golden yellow hybrids, ‘Argosy’ being the first. Because of the considerable time between making a cross and obtaining a mature blooming specimen and the relative infertility of the F1 hybrids, Saunders only produced a few F2’s. ‘Heart of Darkness’ is one F2 he named.  His breeding work was first carried on to some extent by Nassos Daphnis in the gardens of William Gratwick and then by others, notably David Reath and William Seidl, to whom Silvia Saunders distributed his plants. 

His woody peony breeding notebook only occasionally records specific species and cultivars as the parents of his cultivars. References to “Reath and Saunders” refer to an article in the American Peony Society Bulletin written by David Reath and Silvia Saunders and reprinted in The Best of 75 Years, APS, 1979. Seedling numbers were obtained from Silvia Saunders’ Notebook given to APS.

Click on a photo to view the description.

In My Garden…

Age of Gold


Amber Moon


“Apricot” -no See below



Black Panther

Black Pirate



Chinese Dragon





Daredevil?  Probably not.

Gold Sovereign

Golden Bowl

Golden Hind

Golden Isles

Golden Vanitie


Happy Days


Heart of Darkness


High Noon


Ice Age







Right Royal

Roman Gold

Savage Splendor

Silver Plane

Silver Sails

Spring Carnival

Summer Night


Tiger Tiger


Wings of the Morning

In My Garden…Peony Mixups


Received as Apricot, Likely Golden Vanitie

Apricot at Winterthur Likely Correct

Received as Golden Mandarin Identified as Demetra by Nate Bremer

Received as Holiday  Is Iphigenia

Received as Holiday Is Iphigenia

Additional Saunders woody peonies


Known to be in existence…

Arcadia, Black Douglas, Celestial, Charioteer, Conquest, Corsair, Countess, Festival, Harlequin, Hyperion, Narcissus, Princess, Red Currant, Red Cloud, Red Jade, Rose Flame, Segovia, Spanish Gold, Star Dust, Sunrising.



Black Douglas



Likely Lost…

Centaur, Gold Dust, Golden Mandarin (correct single form), Lombard, Melody, Monitor, Nankeen, Nereid, Noelle de Mosa (suffruticosa), Pastoral, Phoenix, Tea Rose, Titania, Trophy.