History of Peony

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“Peony, growing in fresh air mixed together with beautiful mountain and clear water, absorbing the essence of flowers, has won the enormous favor”. As a famous traditional flower in China, it takes its place in the world in the history of gardening. Darwin once wrote in his book “Animal and Plant Variations While Domestically fed”. China has a history of peony planting for 1,400 years.” As a matter of fact, China’s history of peony planting is much longer than what Darwin said. “The Book of Songs” has the line “presented it with herbaceous peony”, in which the “herbaceous peony” includes peony”. Zhen Jiao of the Song Dynasty said in his book “A Comprehensive History:" Peony did not get its name until herbaceous peony was found. So, peony used to be called wood herbaceous peony.” From this we can see that both were found by ancient people.
Peony is one of the woody shrub flowers and plants garden-styled in the earlier time. Its domestication was not fulfilled until when its medical value was discovered. Wu Pu, living in the Three Kingdoms period, recorded in his book “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”: “Peony has acrid flavour, which has two names: Deer II, and Shugu” and grows in the valley.” In the tombs of the Eastern Han Dynasty excavated in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, dozens of slips of writing bamboo were found, in which contains accounts that peony has the efficacy of curing “blood stagnation”.
 Peony was grown for the purpose of viewing as early as the Southern and Northern Dynasties. “Quatations from Liu Binke” written by Weixun of the Tang Dynasty has the account that that “Yang Zihua of the Northern Qi Dynasty, was good at drawing peony. As he is from the Northern Qi, he knew of peony.” Xie Kangle said in “Taiping Imperial Encyclopaedia” that “In the Song State of the Southern Dynasties, in Yongjia, there were many peonies in the water and bamboo.” The discovery of the name “peony” marked the beginning of this history of peony cultivation. Li Shizhen said in his “Compendium of Materia Medica, “As peony has seeds but grows sprout, it can conduct vegetative propagation, that’s why it is called “mu”. And it has red flowers, so it is called “dan”. From this we can see that “cultivation of peany has to begin with propagation by planting. 
In the Sui Dynasty, the number and scope of peony cultivation began increasing gradually. On the basis of cultivation among the common people, imperial gardens and gardens of magnates began to introduce fine varieties of peonies, thus developing into a concentrated cultivation and viewing spectacle. It is recorded in Annals of the “Sui Dynasty Plain Questions” that “In the Qing Dynasty, peony was in full bloom". Tales of Seas and Mountains by Han Wo of the Tang Dynasty has the account that “Emperor Sui opened up 200 li of land (around the Luoyang Xiyuan Park today) and decreed his subjects to present flowers. 20 boxes of peony were presented by Yizhou to the Emperor, including Flying Red, Yuan Family Red, Sleepy-eyed Rad, Cloud Red, Far Heaven Red, Light Yellow, Soft Yellow, Yan’an Yellow, Early Spring Red, Shivering Wind Charming……”
 Whether there were so many species (names of peony) in that ear still needs to be investigated furthermore. Nevertheless, one thing is certain that peony planting at Xiyuan of the capital of the Sui Dynasty has something to do with the extensive collection of exotic flowers and herbs from the folks.
 History has its consecutiveness. Numeral peony species (peonies with many variations of texture and high petaloid degree) the Tang Dynasty boasted were not an achievement made in a short run. Instead, they were the product that laboring People have produced in the long cultivation practice. 
The Tang Dynasty enjoyed continued political stability, social progress and economic prosperity. Peony of Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Empire witnessed rapid development on the basis of the introduction of Luoyao peony. And in the Tang Dynasty, there appeared horticulturists (experts of flower cultivation). Liu Zongyuan of the Tang Dynasty wrote in his Records in Longcheng: “There was a man named Song Shanfu, who was good at cultivating peonies. Peonies he planted were of numerous varieties, amaze visitors with the ever-changing aspects of their beauty. However, no one knew of his techniques of cultivation. Hearing this, Li Longji, the emperor of the Tang Dynasty, summoned him to cultivate peonies in Mount Li. Song Shanfu planted peonies of 10,000 varieties of peonies with different colors”. As the “artists” suffered from the social reality, and earned meager existence, they would never pass down their “unique skills” to others except for his family members. For this reason, no one has learned Song Shanfu’s unique skills of peony cultivation. However, from this story, we can see that as early as in the Tang Dynasty, peony cultivation techniques reached an impressively high level.
 In the Tang Dynasty, peony cultivation was very popular in mansions, temples and yards of the rich as well as among the common people. According to Duyang Miscellany, “Gao Zong invited his subjects to view two-hear peony”; and Xiyang Miscellany has similar accounts: “Emperor Mu Zong planted numerous peonies, which made the palace fragrant with flowers while the peonies in full bloom”. “Records of anecdotes” has the accounts: “There were two bunches of flowers in front of the Yutang Yard of the Ci’en Temple. More than 500 peonies were profuse with incomparably fragrant while in season.” Peony cultivation was so popular not only because people love and esteem the flower for its value of appreciation, but also it enjoys high economic value. “People plants peony for profit earning" (Collating Rewords of theHistory of Tang). “A bundle of peony may be as valuable as a median family’s annual income (from a poem of Bai Juyi). From this one can see extensive cultivation of peony to cultivate numerous varieties is one of the important reasons why peony is of such high level petalody and featuring increasing flower types and colors.
 In terms of cultivation, attempts had been made in forcing culture. According to "Origins of Objects”, “While Queen Wu was visiting the back garden, all flowers were blooming in a riot of colors except the peony, so it was demoted to Luoyang.” A legend as it is, one can know the reason why “Peony is later blooming. From the perspective of modern cultivation theory, one may speculate that the Tang people failed to accelerate peony cultivation because they had not had a good command of its growth rhythm. As a result, peony could not be in bloom simultaneous with other flowers. But, of course, this speculation needs further research. As for its demotion to Luoyang, it is just a legend.
 In Luoyang, the Eastern Capital of the Tang Dynasty, peony cultivation saw continuous development from the initial stage of the Tang Dynasty to the Later Tang Dynasty (one of the Five Dynasties), with its scale not second to Chang’an peony cultivation. Tao Gu of the Song Dynasty wrote in his “Quotations of Qing Yi":" Zhuang Zong of the Later Tang Dynasty built Linfang Palace, in front of which more than 1,000 peonies were planted in such species as Baiyaoxianren, Moon Palace Flower, Little Yellow Demon, Snow Lady, Fennuxiang, Penglai Master, Coenocentrum Yellow, Imperial Wardrobe Red, Raising Dragon Cup, Sanquzi, etc.
  In all, in the Sui and the Tang Dynasties, wild peonies were domesticated for cultivation and folk recipe peonies were transformed into peonies in courtyards for viewing purpose. 
   In the Song Dynasty, with peony cultivation center transferred to Luoyang, cultivation techniques witnessed more systematic improvement. Moreover, a numbeer of theory monographs facilitated the huge improvement in peony cultivation research. Works in this field in this ear included: “Account of the Tree Peonies of Luoyang” by Ouyang Xiu, “Yinjiang Zou’s Account of Luoyang Peony” and “Account of Flowers and Plants of Luoyang” by Zhou Shihou, “Luoyang Florilege” by Zhang Xun, etc. all these works give an account of peony cultivation and management, concerning such cultivation techniques as land selection, natures of flowers, watering, buts maintenance, insects prevention, frost prevention as well as grafting and breeding, etc. furthermore, a complete set of cultivation experience was summarized. “Account of Luoyang Peony” writes: “Before cultivating flowers, one must select a piece of good land, and remove the original soil, then mix it with one ji of liana.” “radix ampelopsis can kill insects——this is a skill for flower cultivation.” It is recorded in“Account of Luoyang Flowers and Trees” that “The root should not be too deep while planting peony”. Otherwise, it does not do and the flowers are not so flourishing. The best is to keep “the open part” (the conjunction of root and stem)”. From this, one can understand that peony planting should follow strict rules, ranging from land selection to planting. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons why Luoyang peony can be “the best of its kind under heaven”.
 In the Northern Song Dynasty, Luoyang peony featured an unheard - of scale. “In the main, every household had peony planted”. At that time, Luoyang people not only loved to plant flowers but also were skilled in breeding new varieties of peony. No good peony is obtained without grafting. By grafting, they fixed bud-variation and prioritized peony varieties. 
  In the transfer of peony cultivation to the south in the Southern Song Dynasty, from Luoyang and Kaifeng to Tianpeng (Pengxian County, Sichuan Province), Chengdu, Hangzhou, etc), where fine varieties of the north were introduced and have them hybridized with a few local varieties (natural hybridization), and then, by means of grafting and seeding, "eco-environmental friendly" peony varieties in larger quantity and superior quality adaptable to the climate in the south were selected. The The Tianpeng Book on Peony by Lu You describes more than 79 varieties of peony in Luoyang, conveying something of the scale of fine varieties introduction.
   In  the Southern Song Dynasty, natural pollination seeding was cultivated for seeding and propagation, which is of vital significance for modern breeding.
   In the Ming and the Qing Dynasty, peony cultivation spread to Bozhou and Ningguo, Anhui Province, Caozhou, Shandong Province and Beijing, Si’en, Guangzhou and Hezhou, Heilongjiang Province, etc. "Notes of Songmo” has the record concerning the cultivation from Helongjiang to Liaodong: “Mansions of the rich boast, more often than not, a large garden, in which there planted over 300 varieties of peony, most of which can not be found elsewhere". “Si’an County Annals” has it that: “ En’si''s peony originated from Luoyang, several zhang (a unit of length), contending in beauty with double-flowered peony, as a result of which, it is called “Little Luoyang”. This indicates that at that time, the “critical line” of peony moved northward to Helongjiang in the north and to Guangxi in the south.
  In the Ming and the Qing Dynasty, cultivation technology of peony was tending toward perfection. “Memorial to Bozhou Peony” and “Eight Reviews of Peony Cultivation” written by Xue Fengxiang of the Ming Dynasty make scientific summary in the following eight aspects: seeding, planting, selection, grafting, watering, fostering, cure and abstaining. 
   In the early Qing Dynasty, Mirror of Flowers by edited by Chen Haozi made further explanation on the growth habits of peony:“Peony prefer coolness to hotness, prefer dryness to dampness. It will be flourishing planted in new soil and will stretch if exposed to the sun but afraid of strong wind and sun……”.This admonition is sill instructive to peony cultivation today. In addition, philosophy, prevention and cure and conservation of peony cultivation are also listed. Yu Pengnian, his contemporary, wrote “Account of Caozhou Peony”, in which he, apart from making a summary of the experience in peony cultivation of his predecessors, records and narrates fumigating technology in those days. Fumigating was very popular in the Qing Dynasty. According to “Caozhou Peony •Seven Supplementary Notes”: Once upon a time there lived a gardener at Caoqiao outside the You’anman. He lived on peony cultivation. In winter he warmed the flowers with fire. In October, he paid tribute to the king with peony he cultivated". “Five Offerings” has such accounts:” Among the tributes to the loyal family, flowers in season are always found, all of which are stored in crypts. Fire is set for maintenance. So, peony is in full bloom even in winter. That’s why peony is of inestimable value. Flowering forcing technology reached a high level at that time and is still in use today.
In the Ming and the Qing Dynasty, people cultivation featured a grand scale. Wang Xiaojin wrote in his “Florilegium” of 185 peony varieties. Luoyang County Annals, complied during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, lists 169 peony varieties of the previous dynasties and his time. And “Esoteric Encyclopedia of Flower Appreciation” of the Qing Dynasty writes of 131 peony varieties.
 In terms of breeding, natural pollination buds were selected for seeding and propagation so as to increase the number of varieties. Due to historical reasons, peonies around China were doomed on the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
 Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, under the care and support of our Party and Government at all levels, peony cultivation industry has been rejuvenated and developed. Particularly, over the ten years since the implementation of the opening-up policy, the number of cultivated peony has witnessed continuous increase with cultivation technology experiencing ungraded with each passing year. Peony institutes, a scientific research institution in the peony program have been established in Luoyang, Heze, Pengxian, etc. On the basis of the predecessors’ experience, peony cultivation technology has seen new development with more than 30 scientific research projects having passed evaluation and securing many achievements. Many projects have seen new breakthrough, taking the lead in the trade in China, such as: rapid propagation through root of Chinese herbaceous peony with peony, technical research on peony flowing forcing in spring, technological research on peony flowing forcing in autumn, skill research on peony bonsai, etc. furthermore, treatises with high academic value have been published in China, such as "Peony” compiled by Liu Shuming and her team, “Peony Flowers” by Yu Heng and his team, “Heze Peony”, “Luoyang Peony” by Wei Zepu and his tea, “Linxia Peony” by Li Jiajue, and so on. On the basis of predecessors’ experience, these works have themselves enriches and developed. They not only try to realize theorize the cultivation technology in a systematic and complete way, but also conduct exploratory research. Moreover, they elaborate in detail, ranging from propagation of peony to cultivation management, breeding to prevention and control of plant diseases and insect pests, pushing peony cultivation technology to a high level. In addition, new exploration has been made in aspects such as tissue culture, soilless culture and radiation breeding.