Shrub to 1.8 m, reproducing vegetatively by scaly underground stems to 1 m long. Bark grey or grey-brown. Lower leaves biternate, usually with 9 leaflets; leaflets ovate to orbicular, 3-lobed, 4–8 × 3–11 cm, the lobes themselves lobed; glabrous above, villous beneath at least on the veins. Flowers solitary, terminal, April–May in China, with 2–3 unequal, long-elliptic bracts; sepals 3–4, broadly ovate with rounded apex, green or yellow-green, 2.5–5 × 1.8–2.5 cm; petals 5–11, white, occasionally pinkish at base or margins, obovate, 4.5–7.2 × 4.6 cm, apex irregularly cut; filaments pink or purple, white above, 8–10 mm; anthers yellow; disc wholly enveloping carpels at anthesis, leathery, red-purple, apex dentate; carpels 5. Follicles densely brown-yellow hairy, oblong. Seeds dark brown, nearly spherical, 8–9 mm diameter. (Hong et al. 2001; Hong 2010)
Distribution China N Henan, C Shaanxi, SW Shanxi
Habitat Secondary deciduous forests and thickets; 900-1,700 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Paeonia jishanensis has recently emerged from the shadows of ‘P. × suffruticosa’ as one of the wild species in series Vaginatae (Hong 2010, 2011). Known from relatively few, scattered sites, some populations are reasonably large; it has probably survived the depradations of those digging roots for medicine through its capacity for underground vegetative spread (Hong 2010; Zhou et al. 2014). Typical plants have white petals, sometimes with a faint pink stain, and the disc, which envelops the carpels, is an attractive dark red (Hong 2010; Gießler Päonien Kulturen 2020). It is in cultivation at low levels on both sides of the Atlantic, flowering in late April or May in Germany (Bremer 2019; Gießler Päonien Kulturen 2020). Molecular data suggest that P. jishanensis is has probably made an genetic input to some of the Chinese hybrid woody peonies (Zhou et al. 2014).
There has been some confusion around specimens and seed collected in 1910 at a site in Shaanxi by William Purdom. One seedling from Purdom 338 was raised and grown at the Arnold Arboretum for some time (Stern 1946), although it is no longer recorded there (Arnold Arboretum 2020) and probably never reached Europe (Stern 1946; Bean 1976). Paeonia suffruticosa var. spontanea was described from these specimens, said to have been pink flowered, with some petaloid stamens. Beijing researchers include these plants within their concept of P. jishanensis, probably representing a domesticated form (Haw 2001). A convoluted dispute around the priority of names (see Haw 2001; Hong 2010 and references therein) appears to have been resolved in practice, in favour of P. jishanensis (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2020).