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This group of cultivars, well established in China, is defined on its geographical origins, and includes some rather distinct elements. These are plants grown around the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River in Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces; Tongling, Ningguo, Hangzhou and Shanghai are the most important centres of cultivation (Wang 1998; Li 2005). This area has a warm-temperate to subtropical climate, with hot, rainy summers and cool, drier winters.
There are two historical strands of peony cultivation in this part of China, going back more than 1,000 years, which have become intertwined over time (Wang 1998; Li 2005; Cheng 2007). Firstly, Central Plains varieties have been carried south; those which could cope with the climate have been grown and further developed. In particular, these plants can be much taller than typical Central Plains varieties, to 3 m, floriferous and much branched, with long annual stems. Secondly, the Feng Dan cultivars were derived from domesticated P. ostii, a species native to the area and originally grown for medicine. We have mentioned these under P. ostii, but since it is conventional in China to include them in this group (Wang 1998) we describe them here, although Cheng (2007) prefers to separate them, bearing in mind their subtly different plant breeding potential. Some Feng Dan are decorative in their own right, but over time they have contributed to the gene pool of hybrid ornamental cultivars. Most recently selected cultivars are the result of pollinating Feng Dan with Central Plains varieties: a number of these are described and illustrated by Li (2005).
Southern Yangtze cultivars have made little impact on Western gardens. In recent years, imported Feng Dan – especially the white flowered ‘Feng Dan Bai’ – have sometimes been sold by European and North American nurseries, sometimes labelled P. ostii. Robert Fortune introduced several woody peonies to Europe from Shanghai in the 1840s (Bean 1976); the blurred line between Central Plains and Southern Yangtze cultivars makes it hard to say whether or not these were distinctive Shanghai cultivars or examples of Central Plains varieties, which survived there unchanged – in any case they made little long term contribution. If they could be obtained, some of the impressive, tall Southern Yangtze cultivars would be worthy of trying in the American southeast.
Brief descriptions of a few representative cultivars are based on Li (2005).
Single, white flowers to 16 cm across, sometimes with a small faint flare; vigorous and upright. Widely cultivated in China for medicine, and increasingly for seed oil. Not a clonal cultivar.
As ‘Feng Dan Bai’ but light pink, not a clonal cultivar. Li (2005) also describes ‘Feng Dan Hong’ (‘red’), ‘Feng Dan Lan’ (‘red tinted with blue’) and ‘Feng Dan Zi’ (‘purplish red’) as grown at Pudong Tree Peony Garden, Shanghai; photographs suggest these are less red than these colour terms might imply in Britain.
Full double (crown form with proliferation), purple-red flowers to 16 cm across from dark purple buds; very vigorous, upright and bushy, high tolerance of heat and humidity. A good rootstock. Zhejiang.
Semi-double (chrysanthemum to rose form), crimson flowers to 17 cm across; tall stiff and vigorous, little branched but floriferous. Anhui.
Single, bluish-purple flowers to 15 cm across; a larger plant to 1.7 × 2 m, floriferous and reblooming in November–December in Jiangsu.
Semi-double (rose form), dark red to rose flowers to 18 cm across; medium height, much branched, upright and floriferous. Anhui.
Rather full semi-double (chrysanthemum form with proliferation), pink flowers to 16 cm across; medium height, to 1.1 m, very bushy and floriferous.