Transactions of the Linnean Society of London/Volume 12/A Monograph of the Genus Pæonia

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XVI. A Monograph of the Genus Pæonia.By the late George Anderson, Esq. F.L.S. &c.

Read February 4 and 18, 1817.

The male and female Pæeonies of Theophrastus, Pliny and Dioscorides are ascertained to be the plants that were known by those names after the revival of letters. Clusius, of the sixteenth century, seems to have been the first who made any addition to these. That truly original writer describes the plants he saw during his travels with a clearness which, considering the infant state of science at the time, deserves more praise than seems to have been bestowed on him. A number of botanical authors towards the close of the sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth century, chiefly copying him and each other, increased the catalogue; but their descriptions are in general so ill defined, and so replete with inaccuracies, that much information cannot be obtained from them. John Bauhin and our countryman Morison are the principal writers, after Clusius, who can be depended upon, till the days of Linné; and his opinions upon Pæonies were singular and erroneous.

In the Hortus Cliffortianus, his earliest publication, in 1737, he discloses doubts on the subject by observing underneath P. officinalis — "Qui considerat notas essentiales structuramque plantæ, non potest non palpitare vastum istum apud authores numerum, non nisi meris varietatibus constare." He afterwards makes up his mind; and in the first edition of Species Plantarum reduces all the xxxxnies into one species, with this sweeping remark, "Limites inter species non reperi, hinc conjunxi." Retzius, his pupil, the first who questioned the correctness of this opinion, makes the following just observation thirty years afterwards: "Genus Pæoniæ nimis contraxit illus. a Linné, character specierum utique difficilis non tamen impossibilis. Si Pæonia anomala pro distincta haberi debet specie, non video cur ni etiam reliquæ, nec mihi persuadere potui omnes ab una productas fuisse. Si vero quis aliter sentiat, per me licebit; tunc vero binæ tantum statui debent Pæoniæ species, Officinalis nempe et Tenuifolia. Memoratas species sapius e seminibus educavi semper sibi similes." The truth of this is confirmed by all our experience; for the seedling plants preserve uniformly, as far as we have observed, the habits and characters of their parents, But there is great difficulty in discovering sufficient marks of distinction between them; which, however, we ought not to presume in any case to be insurmountable, though we may have failed in overcoming it in some instances.

Linné admits the newly-discovered P. tenuifolia into his second edition of the Species Plantarum, and P. anomala is described as a new species in his Mantissa; but he persists in considering the old male Pæony only as a variety of the female, though they are distinguished by characters fully as opposite as those by which the two former species are distinguished from either; nor does he ever acknowledge any of those with pubescent leaves to be distinct species, although several of those found in the old authors are unquestionably genuine. But even the error of this great man has on the present occasion proved beneficial to science, by repressing that prevailing propensity among botanists to increase too much the number of species: for no writer has since presumed to take up any of those rejected by him, without mature consideration and well-grounded proof.

Retzius, Pallas, and Murray are the principal botanists who have described Pæonies with precision after Linné, and their descriptions are excellent as far as they go; but the accession of new species lately discovered, and as yet but imperfectly described, together with the necessity of a thorough revision of those that were formerly known, rendered some attempt like the present requisite. If it shall be found to possess any merit, it is not to me, but to my much esteemed friend Joseph Sabine, Esq. F. R.S., &c. that it is to be ascribed: that gentleman for several years has collected with indefatigable pains all the Pæonies he could discover both from public and private gardens. Having at length assembled upwards of seventy plants under different names in his garden at North Mimms, he began, by comparing them together, to produce order out of confusion. It was at his particular invitation that I first attempted to describe them; and it has been by the assistance of his information that I have been enabled to proceed in the undertaking. I have, therefore, to avoid the necessity for reiterated acknowledgements, taken the liberty of employing the plural number, as including him, in the composition of the following account.

I do not enter into any examination of the general character, further than to repeat what has been hinted by others; that the genus properly belongs to Polyandria Trigynia, not only because the species more generally exhibit three pistilla than any other number, but also because this is its most natural position: it should stand, in my opinion, between Aconitum and Homalium in the factitious arrangement. The germina tomentosa, will now be expunged from the natural character, there being two species with smooth germens.

The descriptions are made out from an actual examination of each living plant; and it affords no small satisfaction to say, that very few if any of the plants taken notice of up to the present time remain unaccounted for: a few, indeed, which appear to be questionable, are noticed as such in their proper places. I have rejected many synonyms of the old authors, from motives of caution: but I am inclined to believe that every species enumerated by them refers to some one or other of the plants here recorded.

It was deemed necessary to be more particular in describing the varieties than is customary in a scientific paper; not only because some of these may hereafter turn out to be distinct species, but also with a view to render the tract useful to cultivators as well as to botanists; and by referring each plant at present known to the old authors, in all cases in which they can be followed, to guard in future, as much as possible, against the confusion which their inaccuracies have produced.

I have rejected the folium ternatum in the specific characters, as being common to the whole: and for the same reason I have avoided in the descriptions the repetitions of such terms as caulis uniflorus, caulis angulatus, petioli supra canaliculati. The number of stamina is also omitted, as being very indefinite.

There are two parts, however, in the organization of the Pæonies, which appear to me to deserve more attention than has been paid to them; but they attracted my notice when it was too late for me to avail myself of them: viz. the shape and number of the stipulæ attached to the caudex, and the form and structure of the perigynous substance which belongs to all the species. These may perhaps hereafter form important objects for specific distinction.

All the species hitherto known are confined to the northern hemisphere, and no one has yet been found in any part of America. They belong to cold climates. Some species indeed are indigenous in the south of Europe; but they grow upon elevated situations. They are, as far as has yet been tried, sufficiently hardy to stand our winter unprotected.

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The P. laciniata in like manner is founded on a single authority only, that of Willdenow's Enumeratio. Willdenow's plant came from Siberia; and it night be suspected that he had got Pallas's P. laciniata, which is the P. anomala of Linnæus and all subsequent writers, and had erroneously considered it distinct, being misled by the name, but that he describes it "capsulis tomentosis." This circumstance (since it cannot be admitted that it is another species, or it would have found its way to other collections from the Berlin garden,) makes it probable that Willdenow's P. laciniata was only a strong-growing plant of P. tenuifolia, perhaps in the very state figured by Pallas as P. hybrida. M. De Candolle has described his P. laciniata with "capsulis tomentosis patentibus;" the addition of this latter term not being a part of Willdenow's description.

North Mimms,

20th December, 1817.