Visit the Peony Garden!

Open Spring/Summer

Free Admission

1610 Washington Hts, Ann Arbor, MI

Making global impacts.

The peony garden is an unrivaled, unique, contemporary and long-term research structure on the world stage. There are three reasons for this.


Since its foundation in 1922, our garden has grown the cultivars in pairs – biological replicates. Cultivars are (usually) cloned from the same mother plant even though they may be greatly multiplied in numbers and dispersed across the world. Like identical twins, they should have very similar characteristics – both in how they look (phenotypes) and how they respond to any given interaction with the world (based on their genotypes.)


Our specimens have not been regularly fertilized or sprayed to control pests since at least the 1930s. Thus what we see are the inherent responses of the plant’s genomes at this site. In addition, our plants are only rarely divided and we know the years since being divided. As a result, we can tease out ‘age’ since being vegetatively rejuvenated.


Ours is an historic collection – a significant living archive. Most ornamental reference collections make some effort to keep up with the times, and being limited in space, remove less-popular specimens to make way for the new. Ours is a time capsule from the first introduction of these floral gems from China and Japan and through the peak of development for floral fragrances.

Areas of

Our current focal areas of work (the three points below) were formally structured in 2015.

That is the year the University of Michigan and the Central Botanical Garden – Minsk of the National Academy of Sciences, Belarus signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding to further research projects of mutual interest.

This agreement has been renewed, and is the basis of the research reported below – and in progress through mutual funding.

More Information

Additional collaborative research is with other native and cultivated plants

CBG collections and Plants of Belarus (native and cultivated)

Photo of a peony flower

History of Herbaceous
Peony Domestication

The history of herbaceous peony domestication and cultivar breeding has been intractable for over two centuries. Shifting social agendas of the breeding programs as well as the emergence and spread of bacterial, fungal and viral diseases has left unresolved several key questions, as:

Which peonies are related to which, and how closely related are they?

Once deduced, can genomic-based pedigrees (also called “passports”) be used to predict useful traits (as fragrance, or disease resistances) as well as certify the correct identity of plants that have lost their names?
For the diseases, what are the ranges of successability, how are these related to ancestry, and is there evidence for genes of resistance for specific pathogens or their races (strains, isolates)? If so – what are the mechanisms?


There are additional research projects that have emerged from our work. We have work in progress in addition to the public information and research presentations and publications listed below.

Since 2014, funding for this deepening research has been supported by the Belarusian Foundation for Fundamental Research, MCubed, and the W. E. Upjohn Peony Garden Fund. In addition, specific further-partnered research projects (cited below) have additional funding sources. In addition, specific student projects have been funded by generous donors.

As we implement our research trajectory, and now that we have a robust data-management model, we will be seeking more significant funding related to our plant/virus work that is based on a genomics-based framework of the cultivar-relationships. With this, we can expand to include additional institutional partners in the Plant Collections Network of AGPA, and beyond.

UM Student Research and Internship Projects

UM students, faculty, curators and colleagues at the CBG-Minsk, NAS Belarus, with additional partners as needed, have an ongoing set of research projects. These outputs are listed in reverse chronological order – newest first.

Amann N., Cortés-Ortiz L., Michener D. and Vlasava N. Chloroplast Diversity in Reference Collections of Herbaceous Peony, 2018. Conference: UROP Symposium, University of Michigan, 18 April, 2018. Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Pearsall, C, Bryant, R, Vlasava N and Michener, D. The Ugly Ones Die. Beauty, Value and Extinction: a case study in ornamental peonies.2014 Conference: UROP Symposium, University of Michigan, April, 2014. Ann Arbor, MI, USA.

Books and Book Chapters

Michener, D. C., Grese, R. E. [Eds.], 2020 Passion for Peonies: Celebrating the Culture and Conservation of Nichols Arboretum’s Beloved Flower. University of Michigan Press.

Grese, R. E. Nichols Arboretum: 1906–2017.  2017. In Barndt, K and Sinopoli, C. [Eds.] Object Lessons and the Formation of Knowledge.  The University of Michigan Museums, Libraries, and Collections 1817–2017.  Pg 267-275.

Michener, D. C., Adelman, C. A., 2017 Peony: The best varieties for your garden. Timber Press.

Peer-reviewed articles based on peonies in this peony garden

Shaffer, C. M., Michener, D., Vlasava, N. B., Chotkowksi, H., and Tzanetakis I. E., 2022. Population genetics of cycas necrotic stunt virus and the development of multiplex RT-PCR diagnostics. Virus Research, 309, pp.

Shaffer, C. M., Michener, D., Vlasava, N. B., Chotkowksi, H., Lamour, K., Stainton, D. and Tzanetakis I. E., 2021. The population structure of the secovirid lychnis mottle virus based on the RNA2 coding sequences. Virus Research, 303, pp.

Shaffer, C. M., Michener, D., Vlasava, N. B., Botermans, M., Starre, J. and Tzanetakis I. E., 2021. First report of Gentian Kobu-sho-associated virus infecting peony in the United States and the Netherlands. Plant Disease

Shaffer, C. M., Michener, D., Vlasava, N. B., and Tzanetakis I. E., 2018 “Perennial ornamental enables virus spread across the United States.” Phytopathology, 108 (12) pp. 8-9

Spiridovich, E. V., Fomenko, T. I., Vlasava, N. B., Kozlova, O. N.,Vaynovskaya, I. F., Yukhimuk,  A. N., Kuzmenkova, S. M.,  Nosylovsky, O. A., Reshetnikov, V. N. Conservation of rare plants in the aseptic collection and DNA bank of the Central botanical garden of NAS of Belarus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Biological Series. No 3. – 2017. P. 117-128. []

Spiridovich E., Vlasava N., Titok V., Reshetnikov V. Workshops with expedition trips organized by the Central Botanical Gardens of NAS of Belarus-an effective instrument of international cooperation between botanical gardens.” Hortus Botanicus (2016), V. 11 (1). – 2016. P. 244-259. ISSN 1994-3849. DOI: 10.15393/

Michener D. C., Vlasava N. B., 2015 Developing an international model for Paeonia lactiflora Pall. (Paeoniaceae) genetic resources conservation: integrating assessment of relative significance of historic cultivars for field genebanks with their genetic diversity// III International scientific-practical conference «Problems of biodiversity conservation and use of biological resources» 7–9 October 2015, Minsk, Belarus. — pp. 438–442.

Vlasava N. B., Michener D. C., Yukhimuk A. N., Gaishun V. V., Bryant R., Agabalaeva E. D., Spiridovich E. V., 2014. Genetic differentiation of historic cultivars of herbaceous Paeonia based on SRAP markers: documentation and conservation of botanic collections. Works of the State Nikitski Botanical Garden, 139, pp. 187-199.

Professional and Research Symposia

Rachel Gosch (1), Liliana Cortes-Ortiz (2), Andrea K. Thomer (1), Nastassia Vlasava (3,4), and David Michener (4) Preserving Peonies of the Past: Curating Digital Plant Data at the University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum (Сохранение исторической коллекции пионов: сбор цифровых данных о растениях в Дендрарии Николс Мичиганского университета) (англ.). (1) University of Michigan School of Information; (2) Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, (3) Minsk Botanical Gardens, (4) University of Michigan Botanical Gardens. | “Strategies and methods of botanical gardens for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity of natural flora-VIII”. 15 June 2021, Minsk, Belarus (zoom-facilitated international conference).

Veranika Filipenia, Hanna Viarouchik, Valentina Gaishun, Nastassia Vlasava & David Michener.  Influence of cultivation factors on the efficiency of in vitro propagation of rare taxa of herbaceous Paeonia: Development of an effective reproduction and conservation tool for the botanical / national reference collections in Belarus and USA |  2nd annual Green Life Science Symposium, 27th of September, 2018, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Michener, N. Vlasava. Historic Collections and Field Banks as Research Tools: Peony viruses drive a research program in collection management. | 8th Annual Meeting of the Michigan Consortium of Botanists, Albion, MI (USA), 28 October 2017.

Michener, N. Vlasava. Understanding and conserving genetic diversity of herbaceous peonies in public gardens | American Peony Society Convention. 2016, Green Bay, Wisconsin (USA), 4 June 2016.

Vlasava.  Global Collaborations between public gardens to Preserve Plant Biodiversity | American Public Garden Association Congress “Watering out roots to grow our community”, Minneapolis, St. Paul 2015, June. Panel: Botanic sessions Beyond the borders to conserve genetic diversity: Cross-gardens, cross-countries and cross-continents. Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN, USA. 26 June 2015.

Michener, N. Vlasava. Conservation of historic Paeonia collections: documentation of genetic diversity and phylogeny resolution. | 5th Annual Meeting of Michigan consortium of botanists. – Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. October 25, 2014.

N. Vlasava, D. Michener. Genetic differentiation of Paeonia cultivars and species: certification and preservation of collections, prospects for the phylogenetic reconstruction of domestication. | “Strategies and methods of botanical gardens for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity of natural flora-II”. Minsk, Belarus. 7 July 2014