F.C. Stern A Study of the Genus Paeonia
42. P.mollis Anderson in Trans.Linn.Soc.London, 12, 282 (1818) ; Bot.Reg.t.474 (1820) ; DC. Prodr. 1,66 (1824) ; Loddiges, Bot.Cab. t. 1263 (1827) ; Baker in Gard. Chron., N. Ser. 21, 829 (1884) ; Huth in Engl. Bot. Jahrb. 14, 273 (1891); F. C. Stern in Journ. Roy. Hort. Soc. 68, 130 (1943).Syn. P.pubens Sims in Bot. Mag. t. 2264 (1821) ; Reichenbach, Ic. Fl. Germ. 4, t. 124 (1840) ; Lynch in Journ. Roy. Hort. Soc. 12, 442 (1890).P.sessillflora Sims in Bot. Mag. t. 2648 (1826) ; F. C. Stem in Journ. Roy. Hort, Soc. 56, 73 (1931).P.villosa Desf. sec. Sweet, Brit. Flow. Gard. t. 113 (1826) ; Desf. Cat. PI. Hort. Reg. Paris, Ed. 3, P.213 (1829) ; non Desf. (1804).
Description. Stem villous to glabrous, 30-45 cm. high. Lower leaves bitemate, but all the leaflets are bifurcate or trifurcate, giving 21-25 divisions, some of which are more or less deeply 2-3-lobed ; divisions mostly narrow, oblong or elliptic, cuneate and often confluent at the base, apex acute or bluntly acute, 6-10 cm. long, 2-4 cm. wide, green and glabrous above, glaucous and densely white-hairy below. Flower somewhat cup-shaped, about 7 cm. across, not carried above the foliage. Petals obovate, red or white. Stamens 13-15 mm. long, filaments red or pale yellow, anthers yellow. Carpels 2-3, densely tomentose. Follicles 2-2-5 cm. long.
Distribution. Known only in gardens and probably of garden origin.
P.mollis belongs to the Officinalis group and stands somewhat near P.humilis var. villosa. It is distinguished from it by the upright stalk, the sessile leaflets and the subsessile flower, with a short stalk which makes the flower look as if it were sitting down in amongst the leaves.
Anderson (1818) described this paeony from a garden specimen in his Monograph of the Genus. He writes, " This plant is at first sight distinguishable from its congeners by its short rigid upright stalks, the dark bluish-green colour of its leaves which are flat, compact, very much divided, the laciniae crowded, overlapping each other, very woolly on the underside, nowise bordered with red as in most of the others, and the lateral leaflets being almost sessile, the exterior side of each disposed to be decurrent. It is the most dwarf of all our species, seldom reaching 18 inches in height even in our gardens. The flower is small of a dark, dull purplish-red by no means handsome."
In the Botanical Register, vol. 6, t. 474 (1820), where there is an excellent plate of the red-flowered form of P.mollis, the text states that this paeony was reputed to have been raised by Messrs. Loddiges & Son from seed sent them by Pallas, probably from the southern districts of the Russian Empire.
There are no wild specimens in any herbaria. If the original plant appeared in Loddiges' garden from seed sent by Pallas, the sterility of the plant would indicate that the collected seed was the result of some chance hybridisation in the wild. It certainly seems to be of garden origin.
The white form of the same plant was described by Sims and illustrated in the Botanical Magazine in 1826, t. 2648, and named by him P.sessillflora. It has grown in my garden for many years, and has the rigid upright stalks, the bluish-green leaves and other characters emphasised [end page 108] by Anderson. Further, the stalk comes out of the ground quite green and as Anderson remarks, " nowise bordered with red," which is the habit of most other paeonies. It also has the same habit as the red-flowered form, that the flower is subsessile and therefore seems to sit down amongst the foliage. This variety has never had fertile seed in my garden. It is not of much account as a garden plant. [end page 109]