The Extraordinary History of the Peony

5 min read

Peonies are flowering plants that are native to North America, Asia, and Europe. There are approximately 40 unique species of the plant, while scientists think there may be even more that they have not been distinguished yet. The gorgeous flower has a short growing season, but they make up for their short life cycle through their abundant fragrance!

You know it’s springtime when you smell the light floral scent of a peony blossom. The color of the flower can vary, but it is common to see shades of reds, pinks, and whites adorning spring bouquets around the globe. These flowers are a great addition to include in your home and garden as they can bring a pop of color to a humdrum palette. So, where did this stunning plant come from, anyway? We’re about to find that out!

You can learn the following as you read:

  • The backstory of the peony plant
  • Additional meanings of the peony
  • The historical significance of the flower
  • Its primary use in today’s world

The Backstory of the Peony

Two Greek myths describe the meaning of the peony. They are as different as night and day, but both stories are entertaining, nonetheless. Both tales indicate that the peony received its name from Greek mythology.

In the first story, Paeon was the physician to the gods. He made his teacher mad when he took the liquid of a plant to cure Pluto. The teacher, Asclepius, was jealous of Paeon because he was the god of healing. When Zeus heard Asclepius’ plan to kill Paeon, he turned the physician into a flower he called a peony.

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The other Greek myth is about a nymph named Paeonia. She was so extraordinarily stunning that she won the interest of Apollo, the son of Zeus. Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, grew jealous of Paeonia and turned her into the peony flower.

Additional Meanings

There are other cultural meanings for the name of the plant. Let’s take a look at some more of them now.

China In China, the peony flower is the official emblem of the country. You can see the image of the plant displayed in their festivals, and they remain the official flower of holidays and traditions. In Chinese, the name translates to the “most beautiful flower.” The flower also has a royal background in China and other Asian countries.

The Qing dynasty of the 1900s made the peony the national flower and used the plant in its art, décor, and other displays. The majestic nature of the plant is what has made the flower popular for centuries in the country.

Luoyang, China, is a populous city that is often called the City of Peony. The town is known for its National Peony Garden, which showcases dozens of peonies in its gardens and also provides the plants that are used in its annual peony festival.

North America In the Victorian ages, the peony had a much darker significance. It was thought that if you dug up a peony or brought it into your home, you were going to be visited by fairies who were going to put a curse on you. You were then believed to be unlucky for the rest of your life. Today, the flower is now regarded for its beauty. In the United States, Indiana has made the peony its state flower.

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Europe In other Eastern European countries, the flower had a reputation of modesty and shyness. Different tales believed nymphs and fairies hid their naked bodies by turning into a peony blossom. In the 19th century, European Impressionist painters used the flower as their subject in hundreds of paintings. Renoir, Delacroix, and Manet are just some of the well-known artists who had a deep appreciation of the flower.

Historical Background

The peony has been around for over 4,000 years. They were first seen in the eastern part of the world and were eventually spread around the world by different rulers as they moved their courts to other regions. The plant arrived in Asia around 700 A.D. The peony plant was appreciated by different cultures not only for its beauty but for its medicinal properties as well.

All along Europe and Asia, the different parts of the peony were thought to have curative abilities. They were used to treat bladder ailments, stomach pains, other internal afflictions, and even night tremors. The Chinese also include the flower petals in their food and drinks to add a unique flavor to their delicacies.

Christians who lived in the Middle Ages thought the peony plant was a symbol of wealth, beauty, and health. They used the seeds and roots in herbal teas and medicines to cure a variety of ailments from the inside out. Many of these Christians began to create hybrids of the plants because they thought that it was going to increase its curative powers. A lot of these hybrids can now be seen today in gardens and bouquets everywhere.

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Peony Uses Today

In today’s world, the peony plant is mostly seen in gardens and florist shops in hundreds of countries. They are a popular flower seen in weddings and bridal bouquets. For those who enjoy planting the peony, they should know the perennial plant can last 100 years if taken care of properly.

Planting peonies are simple as they need little maintenance for them to grow properly. They should be planted in late fall and need to be established for about six weeks before the first frost sets in. Since they don’t do well when transplanted, you need to make sure you need to choose the right location for the plant the first time around. They enjoy the sun and need to be sheltered from strong winds.

Peonies make great liners for gardens and can also be used as low-lying hedges. In addition to the full blooming flowers, the thick and vibrant green leaves turn a purple and gold color in the fall, adding a new dimension to your garden.

There is nothing the peony can’t do! The stunning flower has been around for centuries and for a good reason. Countries around the world have long appreciated the beauty and healing qualities of the plant. The stately plant is not going anywhere. Enjoy including a flower or two in your garden today. It is sure to take your breath away year after year!

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