Peony Types and Cultivars for Iowa

Peonies are popular garden perennials.  While they bloom for a short time in spring, they are revered by many gardeners for their fragrant and beautiful flowers and longevity in the landscape.  Several species of peonies perform well in Iowa and across the Midwest.

red peony flower with yellow center
Semi-double herbaceous peony

Common Herbaceous Peony  |  Fern-Leaf Peony  |  Tree Peony  |  Intersectional Hybrid Peony  |  More Information

Common Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous or common peonies (Paeonia latiflora hybrids) are the staple peony in the garden and the most widely grown type of peony. Herbaceous peonies typically die back to the ground every winter. Flower colors include white, pink, peach, red/burgundy, and lavender. The common herbaceous peony is also available with different flower forms: single, semi-double, double, Japanese/Anemone, and bomb.  The different flower forms are based on the number of flower petals and the absence of pollen. The flowers are often so large that they flop to the ground from their sheer weight unless supports are used.  Herbaceous peonies are often 2 to 3 feet tall.  A few of the many popular cultivars are listed in the table below.

Select Cultivars of Herbaceous Peonies

CultivarFlower ColorFlower Form
Bowl of BeautyBright pink with white centerJapanese/Anemone
Coral CharmCoral pinkSemi-double
Festiva MaximaWhite with red flecksDouble
KansasCarmine redDouble
Karl RosenfieldDark RedDouble
Miss AmericaWhiteSemi-double
Pink HawaiianPeachy pinkSemi-double
Raspberry SundaeLavender-pink with cream/pink centerBomb
Sarah BernhardtPastel pinkDouble
Shirley TempleWhiteDouble

fern leaf peony flower
Fernleaf Peony

Fern-leaf Peonies 

Fern-leaf peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia) are also herbaceous, but they are noted for their fine, dissected foliage. Flowers are single or double and are often only available in a dark red/burgundy color. This delicate foliage texture contrasts nicely with the bold blossoms. Fern-leaf peonies are typically the first peonies to flower.  Fern-leaf peonies are often the smallest peony type, rarely reaching more than 2 feet tall. 

Tree Peonies

Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are woody shrubs (not trees) in the home landscape.  Unlike the other peony types, they produce woody stems that survive above the ground over the winter. Tree peonies reach about 3 to 5 feet in height in the Midwest. Tree peony flowers are available in the widest range of colors, including white, pink, red, lavender, yellow, peach, and green. Flowers of tree peonies are also very large, often reaching 6 to 9 inches in diameter. Most tree peonies have semi-double to double flowers, but the flowers don’t flop like herbaceous peonies since the stems offer more support.  Tree peonies typically bloom before the common herbaceous peony.  Below are a few popular tree peonies sold online or at garden centers in spring.

Select Cultivars of Tree Peonies

CultivarFlower Color
Black PirateDark burgundy
Companion of SerenityPale pink
GessekaiWhite, single
Hana Kisoi (Floral Rivalry)Pink
High NoonYellow
ImpumonBright red
Kamata FujiLavender-pink
PlutoDeep red purple
bartzella peony
Bartzella is a yellow itoh peony

red tree peony flower
Tree peony flower

Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

Hybrids exist between tree peonies and the common herbaceous peonies. These hybrids are often called Intersectional hybrids or Itoh peonies (after Japanese hybridizer Toichi Itoh). Itoh peonies often die back to the ground each winter like herbaceous peonies. In the spring, the tree-peony-like foliage is followed by large, colorful flowers.  The flowers and flower colors closely resemble tree peonies.  These peonies start blooming as the common herbaceous peonies start to fade.  Below are a few of the popular Itoh peonies available on the market.

Select Cultivars of Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

CultivarFlower Color
BartzellaYellow with red flare in the center; double
Cora LouiseWhite with dark lavender flare in the center; semi-double
First ArrivalLavender-pink; semi-double
Keiko (Adored)Lavender-pink; double
Kopper KettleCopper-pink; semi-double
LuxuriantPale pink with dark pink flare in the center
Misaka (Beautiful Blossom)Orange-peach fading to yellowish; also sold as ‘Smith Opus 1’
Scarlet HeavenScarlet red; semi-double

single white peony flower
Single white herbaceous peony

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Last reviewed:
April 2023