Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Paeony plants are only visible above ground in the spring, summer and autumn. In winter their above-ground shoots die down. When the spring comes, new shoots appear at ground level and rapidly expand to form large shoots, about 2 feet tall. At the tip of each shoot, a large flower appears. When the flowers have set seed and the weather turns cold again, the nutrition from the shoots is drawn back into the storage structures under ground, and the shoots die back.

This is a paeony plant in the earliest few days of its spring growth. The buds are clearly beginning to grow up and expand, but they have not got very far yet.

Partially expanded Paeony buds, 13th March.

The photo below shows a close up of one of these partially expanded buds.

A paeony shoot rapidly expanding at the beginning of spring.  This shoot is about 5 cm tall. 13th March.

After two days of further grown a similar bud on the same plant looks like this:

Partially expanded Paeony bud, 15th March. 

Two weeks later, the whole plant has exploded into growth, producing large green leaves, with large spherical flower buds at the tips of the shoots. 

Well expanded Paeony buds 29th March. 

Below is a close up of the shoot that was shown at the top of the page. It has clearly changed at great deal in only a couple of weeks, and is almost ready to flower. 

Well expanded Paeony buds 29th March. 

The plant remains much the same until about the end of August or a bit later. By the end of November the nutrition in the leaves has almost all been drawn back down into the underground storage tubers. The is clearly seen in the photo below, with all of the leaves turned brown and dry.

29th November of the same year. 
At this point it is quite reasonable to cut all of the old foliage off, which leaves the plant looking much as it did at the top of the page. The photo below shows the plant with its leaves all gone, and the new buds for next year all poking out, and ready to go.

29th November of the same year. 
 The photo below shows a close-up of these new shoots. They are ready to burst into growth as soon as the conditions signal to the plant that spring is firmly established. When that happens the buds will grow in exactly the same way as we saw in the first photographs above.

29th November of the same year. 

The paeony is a remarkable plant that is able to go through this explosive cycle of growth and renewal ever year. In particular it has the uncanny ability to shut down all of its used leaves at the same time as producing the new buds for next year. This must take some pretty serious organisation, as it is akin to waking up and going to sleep at the same time. Yet another fascinating area of botany just waiting to be explored.