This is the first of several posts on Paeonia, the only genus in the the family Paeoniaceae. Peony is an extremely important genus both medicinally and as a cultivar. The family is native to temporate Asia and Southern Europe with two disjunct species in the Western United States.
The two most important species are P. lactiflora and P. suffruticosa. These are both Chinese species the later of which is commonly known as tree peony and has been culitvated for approximately 4000 years. The Chinese name for this plant is mu dan (牡丹). In Chinese medicine we call the medicinal mu dan pi (牡丹皮) because the bark of the root is used as medicine–the third part of the name means skin or bark. This is an extremely important medicinal in Chinese medicine and is found in some of the greatest formulas in Chinese medicine such as Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (六味地黄丸).
The first species mentioned in an herbaceous plant and is known as bai shao (白芍) in Chinese and is one of the most important medicinal plants in Chinese medicine. This medicinal is used in many formulas and found its way into the pharmacy of many herbalists in the West.
As cultivars the genus is widely known for its splendid flowers, like the one found in the photograph here taken in Beijing at the Medicinal Plant Gardens in early June 2008. This photograph is of P. lactiflora but it is often the other species and its varieties that draw the most attention in the gardening word, mostly because it is a small to medium sized shrub with a very delicate flower. Something that is seen by some Chinese as a quintisential characterization of yin springing from yang.
OK, over the next week or more we will look further at these two species as well as a number of other species.

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