Glykysides in Our Spring Garden

Since we officially began gardening in our Athlone Street house in 1986 my wife soon became a Master Gardener and a FOG (Friend of the Garden at UBC). With fewer official gardening activities I had more time to learn about plants. I know considerably lots of useless facts about hostas, roses, ferns and trees.

I know nothing about peonies.

I do know that the funny word for these plants is pronounced exactly like that yearly activity on Hastings and Renfrew, the PNE. I avoid it.

In our garden we have two tree peonies (they do not resemble trees at all) and a few herbaceous peonies. The house came with the pink tree peony proving the fact that tree peonies can live up to at least a century if the garden they are planted in is not plowed under with its accompanying house as ours (the house and garden) will someday soon.

There are four peonies and all have scent. In three the scent is sweet and most interesting. In a fourth the scent is on the borderline between offensive and not.

Google has made our beautiful stacking bookcase (glass doors that slide in) and its rather large collection of botanical volumes obsolete. If you cannot remember the name Meconopsis betonicifolia you cannot find the reference in any of those books. It is far simpler to go to Googgle and punch in blue Himalayan poppy.

But no Google can gather up such interesting and varied facts about plants as some of our books. The book on Aroids trumps up on anything you might find in Wikipedia.

One of our most loved books is Frances Perry Flowers of the World and illustrated by Leslie Greenwood. The former is followed by the initials M.B.E., V.M.H., F.L.S. and the latter by F.L.S., and F.R.S.A. You can Google them if you like.

Of peonies it begins with:

1 genus and 33 species. This family contains a single genus of dicotyledonous perennials previously included under Ranunculaceae. There are about 33 species, all N temperate, with rhizomatous or tuberous roots; the majority are herbaceous plants but several are of a shrubby nature.

There is more (lots more) of that but this caught my interest:

Paeonia officianalis is mentioned by Theophrastus, a friend and pupil of Plato and Aristotle, in his Enquiry into Plants (370 B.C.). He calls it ‘the paeony which some call glykyside’ and advised that the roots (reputed to cure wounds) should be dug at dead of night for if the operation were viewed by a woodpecker the digger risked attack and possibly ‘the loss of his eyesight’. Like the Mandrake it was recommended that the ceremony be carried with the aid of a hungry dog — tied to a string and enticed by the smell of roast meet, for the groans of the plant as its roots were torn up would, according to the Ancients, prove fatal to all who heard it!

Link to: Glykysides In Our Spring Garden

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: