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Herb Gallery

Mu Dan Pi (Paeonia suffruticosa)

  • Botanical name: Paeonia suffruticosa
  • Common name: Moutan, Tree peony
  • Family: Ranunculaceae, buttercup family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: root bark
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Clears heat, cools blood, clears fire from deficiency, clears
    ascending Liver fire, mildly invigorates the blood
Paeonia suffruticosa
Paeonia suffruticosa

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Paeonia suffruticosa; 05/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Paeonia suffruticosa; 05/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute

Growing and Propagation

The plant is a deciduous small shrub growing 3-5 feet high and spreading to about 4 feet wide. It grows slowly, blooming in May or June with beautiful, large, single or double 6-12-inch flowers. Tree peonies bloom best in dappled shade with 3 to 4 hours of sunlight, though they may be grown in full sun if they has adequate moisture.

The plant grows best in full sun to light shade, in fertile, humus-rich soil with good drainage and plenty of organic matter. It is hardy to -30F, in USDA zones 3 to 8.

Propagation is best from semi-ripe cuttings in the spring or grafts in the winter, though this can be a difficult method. The graft should be planted 3 to 6 inches below the soil level to encourage the scion to develop roots. They can be transplanted in fall, 6 weeks before the ground freezes, but once established, they often resent having their roots disturbed so are best planted in a permanent location.

When growing plants from seed, they should be collected in June when the pods begin to split. They can be stored in moist soil after air-drying for a few days, then planting in the autumn. Pod should not be allowed to fully dry out as it will be more difficult for them to sprout. Seeds that are harvested late or allowed to dry completely will not produce roots until the following spring and then do not send up shoots for another year.

Harvesting and Preparation

For medicinal use, the best quality Mu Dan Pi is very fragrant, and is thick, white and starchy.


The medicinal species of tree peony called Mu Dan Pi, is Paeonia suffruticosa. It is a herbaceous perennial indigenous to China and one of the less common cultivars in the U.S., though can occasionally be found in plant nurseries. More common tree peony cultivars are very slow to grow and bloom briefly, with large spectacular flowers that are fragile and easily damaged by wind, rain or hot temperatures. But Paeonia suffruticosa, is hardier and very floriforus, blooming longer and more vigorously in the early spring.

In China perhaps no other flower is as popular and revered as the tree peony moutan, known as the “king of flowers”. It symbolizes honor, riches, and aristocracy as well as love, affection, and feminine beauty. Of the flowers of the four seasons, it represents spring, and in 1994 it was chosen to be the Chinese national flower.

The species Paeonia suffruticosa is the cultivated plant and there is lack of agreement as to exactly which wild plant it is derived from. In modern times, it is the cultivated plant that is used for growing the medicinal herb, and due to over-harvesting, the wild plant is threatened with extinction. The cultivar used most commonly for Mu Dan Pi is “Fendianbai (“Phoenix White”) as it is very vigorous, but other species are acceptable for use in Chinese medicine.

The specimens pictured are Paeonia suffruticosa “High Noon” (yellow flower) and Paeonia suffrutiosa “Xiang Yu” – Fragrant Jade (white flower). The traditional medicinal species have either white or yellow flowers.