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Celebrating the beauty of red peonies: A Valentine’s Day special

On this Valentine’s Day, I’m thrilled to share with you a source of joy and beauty in my life: my vibrant red peonies. The stunning flowers of red peonies, with their lush petals and radiant color, have been a cherished part of my spring garden for years.

Paeonia ‘Highlight’

2 red flowers of Paeonia 'Highlight'

Red or pinkish red?

Did you know that the vibrant red hues of herbaceous peonies are not just a product of chance, but rather a fascinating result of nature’s intricate processes? These stunning blooms are often the result of careful breeding efforts that involve selections and crossing different peony cultivars and species, such as Paeonia lactiflora and Paeonia lobata, among others. Before breeding with other species, lactiflora cultivars referred to as “red” weren’t truly red but mostly had undertones of deep pink, resembling luscious hues of ruby pink or burgundy.

Paeonia ‘Red Sarah Bernhardt’ (lactiflora)

Almost red blooms of Paeonia Red Sarah Bernhardt
Close-up of 2 flowers of itoh peony Paeonia Scarlet Heaven

To obtain red flowers on an intersectional peony (or Itoh), breeders typically cross herbaceous peonies with tree peonies, particularly Paeonia lutea, which serves as the pollen parent with red flowers. This may result in hybrids with vibrant red blooms as on ‘Scarlet Heaven’ peony (shown here).

Note that the intersectional cross can also be made in the reverse direction (i.e., tree peony x herbaceous). Paeonia ‘German Medusa’ is such an example, where the seed parent is the tree peony Paeonia delavayi, known for its red flowers. Unfortunately, this quite expensive hybrid is not yet part of my collection.

Tree peonies are renowned for producing some of the largest flowers in the peony family. My budding collection includes several red cultivars, originating from both Paeonia x suffruticosa and Paeonia lutea species.

Paeonia ‘Iphigenia’ (lutea)

Red flower of the ree peony Paeonia lutea Iphigenia

All about chemistry

Red bud of Paeonia Red Charm

The rich colors in all these hybrids are primarily attributed to the presence of anthocyanins, natural pigments found in many plant species. These pigments are responsible for a wide range of colors in flowers, including red, purple, and blue. In peonies, the specific combination and concentration of anthocyanins determine the intensity and shade of red displayed by the petals. This natural phenomenon not only enhances the visual appeal of these beautiful flowers but also highlights the incredible artistry of nature.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that the intensity of red in peonies may vary depending on factors such as soil composition and weather conditions. Unlike coral peonies, the coloration in red peonies is typically persistent as the flower matures, but it may develop a slightly brighter shine. However, the vibrant hues of red may appear differently under varying lighting conditions, adding an element of dynamic beauty to these already captivating blooms.

A “red pink” bloom of one-year-old Paeonia ‘Dragon’s Nest’

Red flower of Paeonia Dragon's Nesr

Symbolism of red peonies

Red peonies hold a special place in the world of flowers, symbolizing passion, romance, and admiration. Their rich crimson hue exudes warmth and elegance, making them a captivating sight to behold. As they bloom in my garden, their beauty serves as a reminder of the simple pleasures in life and the joy that nature brings. And they are outstanding in flower arrangements!

My red herbaceous peonies

While Valentine’s Day is often associated with romantic gestures and expressions of love, I invite you to take a glimpse into my garden and behold the beauty of a selection of my red herbaceous peonies. Each one showcases its unique shade of red. Some of them have not fully matured yet and may become larger or more formed in the future. With recent acquisitions, I anticipate many more captivating blooms to share with you as they grace my garden for the first time this upcoming spring.

More floral arrangements with red peonies

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