Peonies are members of the same botanical family as the buttercup, Ranunculaceae, and belong to the genus Paeonia. They originated in Asia and have been cultivated for at least several centuries, if not a millennium, in both Japan and China. Peonies are an early bloomer, with reddish shoots appearing as early as April in the Northern Hemisphere. They are a tall plant, ranging in height from 1 to 5 feet (30 to 150 cm). Their branching stems produce glossy deep green leaves that taper to a point on each end and can reach a length of 5 in (12.5 cm). The peony root is tuberous and brownish in colour.
The peony flowers are produced at the tips of the branching stems. Beginning as globular buds that produce a sweet, sticky These buds slowly open into large, showy flowers with diameters up to 10 in (20.5 cm) wide, attracting harmless ants. The peony has a very long lifespan, especially for a flowering plant. Peonies have been known to live for over a century. They like moist, humus-rich loam in full or partial sun. If peonies become overcrowded, divide them, and at the end of the growing season, cut the stems off at ground level and mulch for winter protection.
Though there are literally hundreds of hybrid varieties that have been developed over the centuries, most peonies share both a common origin and fairly similar characteristics. Many resemble a herbaceous shrub. Others that originated in western China have woody stems and are called tree peonies. Tree peonies do not completely die back in the winter. Furthermore, in traditional Chinese medicine, tree peony root and red peony root are considered distinct entities.