Many flowers and plants commonly found in backyards and gardens can be toxic to animals. Paeonia officinalis is, according to Roman historian Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79 BC), the oldest cultivated flower. Peonies produce large blossoms in almost every shade of red and are prized by gardeners for their lush beauty. Modern cultivars can be virtually any color but blue.
Peonies are classified by the shape of their flowers.
Peonies are durable herbaceous perennial flowers. They produce large blooms for a week in late spring and early summer. Many gardeners stagger their peonies in order to have blossoms for up to eight weeks by mixing early, mid- and late-season cultivars. There are two basic types, garden peonies that die back in winter and regrow in spring and tree peonies that produce a permanent bush-like structure.
Most varieties of peonies produce a prominent pollen-producing stamen.
Garden peonies are hybrids, classified according to the shape of their flowers. They include single, semi-double, double, Japanese and anemone shapes, so it can be hard to tell for sure that you have a peony unless you are familiar with the variety you have growing in your garden. All forms produce a prominent central pollen-bearing stamen except for Japanese varieties that have a stamen that does not produce pollen.
Tree peonies grow on a small shrub-like bush.
Tree peonies are small shrub-like plants that produce a similar variety of blossoms, but, unlike garden varieties, they don’t die back in winter.
All varieties of peony are toxic to pets and livestock.
All varieties of peonies are toxic to animals. Dogs and cats are vulnerable as are horses. Horses are even more vulnerable due in part to the quantities they tend to ingest and to their sensitivity to the toxins in the plant. Peony poisoning in horses can be fatal. Any grazer livestock can be affected if they eat enough of the plants.
If you suspect your pet has ingested peonies, call your vet immediately.
Symptoms of peony poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea. Humans can become depressed from ingesting peonies and animals may display a similar lethargy. Any part of the plant is poisonous when taken in high doses and may also cause paresthesias (prickling, tingling or numbness), accelerated heart rate, excessive menstrual bleeding, miscarriage and excessive clotting. Consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect peony poisoning.