Toichi Itoh Hybrid Peonies

People like to say that if you remain motivated and work hard all your effort will pay off in the end, and you will be rewarded with great success. That may well be true, but if you are an artist, or your name is Toichi Itoh, that success may come a little later than you hope for.

For years, peony growers had tried to cross Herbaceous peonies with tree peonies, but because they are not closely related within the genus, most had assumed this was impossible and largely given up on developing Herbaceous plant with the rich yellow flower displays found in the tree peony. That is, however, until a breeder in Tokyo Japan named Toichi Itoh came along.

In 1948, after a monumental effort (some say he tried more than 20,000 crosses), Itoh finally succeeded in making an intersectional cross between Paeonia x lemoinei, a hybrid tree peony, with P. lactiflora ‘Kakoden’, a white-flowered herbaceous peony which was to serve as the seed parent. He planted the resulting 36 seedlings, but would never realize the fruits of his effort, as he died in 1956, just eight years before the plants that had been his life’s work were to bloom.

In 1964 Itoh’s first crosses began to bloom. Of the 36 plants, six were considered outstanding, and became the first peonies of herbaceous character to have deep yellow, double flowers. These remarkable plants may have been lost forever, however, had it not been for an American horticulturist named Louis Smirnow who discovered them and obtained permission from Itoh’s widow to patent four of the plants in the late 1960s. He imported them into the United States and named them ‘Yellow Crown’, ‘Yellow Dream’, ‘Yellow Emperor’ and ‘Yellow Heaven’.

These intersectional hybrids are vigorous plants that appear to have good resistance to peony blight (Botrytis paeoniae). The foliage looks much like tree peonies but they are herbaceous in habit, and die back to the ground in autumn. They form a dome-shape and bear single, semi-double or double flowers.

From these original crosses, we have seen some notable improvements by American breeders, including Don Hollingsworth’s Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’ (P. lactiflora ‘Carr East #2’ x P. x lemoinei ‘Alice Harding’), which was introduced in 1984 and Roger Anderson’s ‘Bartzella’ (P. lactiflora double white cultivar x P. x lemoinei ‘Golden Era’) raised in 1986. ‘Garden Treasure’ is the only intersectional hybrid to have received a gold medal from the APS, and demand for ‘Bartzella’ was so great during the late 1990s that divisions were sold for more than $1,000 each.

The Itoh Hybrids:

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6 thoughts on “Toichi Itoh Hybrid Peonies

    • I don’t understand the reason for your leaving such a negavtive comment about this beautiful flower. It does tell me a little bit about the person you are, it makes me feel very sad.

  1. I purchased Bartzella in 2005. The bloom is
    breath taking. I found your website very
    interesting because it shed more light on
    the origin of this gorgeous flower. I did some
    research and discovered the hybrid was developed
    by Roger Anderson from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
    USA. Who raised the first Bartzella in 1986, but
    didn’t sell until 1992. Anderson sold the rights to the Bartzella and other hybrids in the fall of 2004 to Brewery Creek Farm Market of Bell Plain, Minn. Anderson told of a story:
    “We were selling it for $250 retail per plant and we couldn’t keep it — it sold out. One year we sold it for that price wholesale to a buyer out East. He turned around and sold it for $475 each and called for more. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

  2. These beutiful gorgeous itohs are expensive, and gorgeous, and lasts a long time, and its beautiful leaves makes great foliage landscaping come fall! As a plant, they lasts a long time. Ilovepeonies! and I consider the peonies that I plant in my garden an investment in lanscape beauty, dynamite cut flowers, and soothing to the senses!

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