Fun Facts about the Peony Flower

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Fun Facts about the Peony Flower

Peony Visibility and Meaning

The peony is a hardy perennial and depending on where it is in the bloom cycle, is either round and plump or varied with a celebration of ruffles. With seasonal visibility from late April to early June, these have become popular gifts for events that commonly take place during this part of the year such as graduations and weddings. Given their robust presentation, their meaning is one of longevity and healing.

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Peonies and Ancient Mythology

The name "peony" comes from the Latin word, paeony, which is a derivative of the Greek word, pauon, which means "to heal." This is why the peony symbolizes healing and since good health extends life, it also symbolizes longevity.

Peonies have a rich history in Greek mythology. It all started with a war between Hercules and Pluto. As a result of a disagreement, Hercules shoots Pluto in the shoulder with an arrow. Bleeding and hurt, Pluto returns to M. Olympus in search of remedy from Asklepios, the god of medicine, however he can't find him. Instead, he finds his student, Paean, who heals Pluto with a flower. When Asklepios finds out about this, he immediately becomes jealous and kills Paean but then Zeus saves Paean by turning him into a beautiful flower called, "Paeonia." Today, this flower is called, Peony.

In another story, a nymph named Paeonia attracts the attention of Apollo, which results in Aphrodite turning her into a peony. This is likely why some believe the peony symbolizes bad luck.

The peony flower also made its way into Chinese mythology. Empress Wu was enjoying tea with princess Tai Ping in the gardens of Xiyuan. The queen is saddened by the fact that early signs of spring haven't yet appeared because the jasmine blossoms were still buried under the snow. Upon noticing this, Empress Wu writes a poem that inspires flowers to blossom. The following day, the garden is full of flower blooms except those of peonies. Out of frustration and fury, Wu ejects the flower to Luoyang where it's appreciated for its beauty and color but known to grow on its own terms.

Peonies in the Chinese Culture

Peonies are native to China and as such are highly regarded flowers and referred to as the "king of flowers." The peony is the national flower of China. Peonies were planted at the Imperial Palace during the Sui and Tang dynasties. It's because of this that peonies symbolize nobility, wealth, and honor.

The city of Luoyang is one of the most popular cities in China and sometimes referred to as the City of Peony. In it exists the National Peony Garden, which contains over 100 unique varieties of peonies and it hosts an annual festival to celebrate the peony.

Peonies in Japanese Culture

The Japanese proverb says, "She stands and sits like a peony and walks like a lily," which is used to describe a beautiful Japanese woman. The Japanese have also been known to make paper origami peonies. There also exists a somewhat controversial Japanese story called The Peony Lantern, which involves peonies and the consequences of loving a ghost.

Peonies and Superstition

Some believe that it's good luck if a peony bush is full of flowers. In contrast, if they dry up and fade, it's a sign of disaster on the horizon. It's also considered bad luck if you have an odd number of blooms.

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Peony Colors

Peonies come in a variety of colors each with different meanings. Keep in mind that the range of hues in each color is wide so the following list is a catch-all for the associated color block.

  • Black peonies symbolize elegance and make nice gifts for those starting new ventures.
  • Blue peonies symbolize loyalty and trust, which makes them great gifts for business partners, or friends you've known since you were kids.
  • Green peonies symbolize growth, prosperity, and new beginnings, which makes them ideal graduation gifts.
  • Pink peonies symbolize shyness, bashfulness, affection, and love both friendly and romantic.
  • Purple peonies represent respect, peace, and understanding and are excellent gifts when requesting forgiveness.
  • Orange peonies symbolize longevity, health, and vitality, which makes them great gift during hospital visits.
  • Red peonies symbolize romance, love, honor, and sacrifice. This is the quintessential version for romantic partners.
  • White peonies symbolize purity and innocence, which makes them ideal for bridal showers.
  • Yellow peonies symbolize wealth and prosperity, which makes them perfect for someone who's starting a new chapter in their life.

Peony Meanings

The peony lifespan is usually between 7-10 days. Their short here-then-not lifespan acts as a reminder that life is short and that we should take advantage of every opportunity. Depending on the situation and who you ask, peonies have several different meanings. Here are the most common:

  • Bashfulness. According to mythology, nymphs hid in peony ruffles, which can be seen as an act of shyness.
  • Beauty. In China, the word, peony is synonymous with the phrase, "most beautiful" and as such China considers this flower to be a strong symbol of beauty.
  • Wealth and Prosperity. The peony is China's national flower with nicknames applied to it that meant, "honor and riches," and the "king of flowers." This is why peony's robust blossoms are considered by many to be symbols of wealth and prosperity.
  • Healing. Peonies have been used for medicinal purposes in traditional and Chinese medicine. In Greek mythology, they're associated with the Greek god of medicine.
  • Honor and Bravery. In Serbia, red peonies were planted to honor the blood spilled by warriors during the 14th century Battle of Kosovo.
  • Love. While their lifespan is short, their design is robust and can bloom for many years after its first one. It's for this reason that peonies are a symbol of long lasting love. This makes them common for bridal showers and wedding gifts as a wishful gesture that the marriage will maintain over the long term. For its symbol of longevity, peonies are traditionally the flowers given to partners on 12th wedding anniversaries.

Caring for Peonies

Peonies are low maintenance flowers that require minimal effort to care for them. The following are some simple tips for peony care.

  • Planting. Since they blossom in late April, stems should be planted in the fall, generally September or October.
  • Sunlight. Peonies love sunlight and need to be placed in a location that can provide at least 6-8 hours of direct exposure per day. Give them shade for the remaining hours, or during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Soil. Use a nutrient-rich soil in a pot that allows for plenty of drainage. Loosen the soil before planting the flower. Aim to plant them 12-18" into the soil with 3-4 feet between plants to allow for enough room for the roots to grow without getting in each others way.

      • Don't cover the soil with mulch because it will suffocate the plant resulting in no blooms.
      • Don't overwater, and avoid locations with minimal water drainage.
      • Don't plant in locations where there's runoff or mildew.
  • Food. It's best to use compost but a combination that includes organic, all-purpose fertilizer is considered optimal to some growers.
  • Support. It's important to setup your support system before the flower begins to bloom. The blooms are heavy so supporting them later can become an issue. Get yourself a handy flower cage to support your peonies as they grow. Using ring supports is common practice.
  • Fall Cutback. Do a thorough cutback after the first frost of the fall. Cut stems down to 3" and clear the surrounding areas of any debris

Grow locations should have good air circulation to help peonies avoid disease problems with botrytis, which causes Peonies to blacken, wilt, and die. Dying bloom heads should be removed immediately to prevent spread and so the plant can apply its resources to growing new bloom heads. Peonies almost never bloom the first year they're planted. On average, expect to see blooms on year three. They take time but once they're in bloom, their annual cycle can last a lifetime. This is why they possess symbolism for longevity.

Peonies in Daily Expressions

Someone who is shy might be described as a "blushing peony."

Other Facts about Peonies

  • The peony was adopted in 1957 as the state flower of Indiana
  • The Victorians once considered peonies to be a symbol of bad luck
  • In ancient Europe, the peony was believed to cure diseases
  • The peony is commonly made into a tattoo for its complex beauty and positive symbolism
  • Peonies have been used for both medicinal purposes and perfumes for their sweet fragrance
  • Peonies are edible and often used in cooking, jams, desserts, and garnishes
  • Peonies act as a great source of food for ants, bees, and other insects
  • Peonies can reach up to 10" in diameter
  • Nearly 40 different species of peonies exist today and are cultivated in Asia, Europe, and North America

In Summary

Peonies are hardy flowers that blossom in late spring and while they take a few years to form establishment, can last a lifetime. Stories about peonies are peppered throughout ancient mythology and they are historically significant in Chinese culture. Peonies come with sayings and superstitions, and various colors and meanings but they're best known to symbolize health and longevity. This state flower of Indiana requires minimal care but loves sunlight.

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