The peony is an incredibly popular garden flower, loved for its show stopping blossoms. The common peony has two outer layers of wide, cupped petals, which surround a cluster of smaller, tighter petals towards its center.
It has the appearance of a frilly petticoat or a ballerina’s tutu, and is therefore a favorite choice for ornamental displays and bouquets.
But is there more to this flower than frills? We look at the deeper meaning of the peony, and how various cultures have interpreted its symbolism.
What Does The Peony Flower Mean?
The meaning behind the peony differs from country to country, culture to culture. The flower is thought to have originated in China, as far back as 1000 BC, and it has a very important place in Chinese tradition.
In fact, peonies are said to be the ‘king of flowers’ and are used in ceremonies and celebration days as symbols of wealth, prosperity and good fortune. This is largely due to the fact that peonies were exclusively reserved for the rich and influential tiers of Chinese society for many years. They are flowers fit for emperors.
In the 8th century, peonies made their way over to Japan, and Japan became a key horticultural developer of the flower. New species of peony were cultivated and began to grow in beautiful Japanese gardens. In Japanese art and literature, the flower came to represent beauty, bravery and honor.
As the peony was introduced in the west, its meaning was largely influenced by its aesthetic beauty, and it became symbolic of bashfulness and young love.. Some Victorians believed that if you uprooted a peony flower, fairies would come and curse your garden!
And others thought that if you left a vase of peonies to dry and wither, back luck would come to your house. However, healthy, happy peonies have always been associated with celebrations and joy.
Etymological Meaning Of The Peony Flower:
The name ‘peony’ is thought to have its origins in ancient Greece, and there are a couple of different theories as to what it refers to.
The first is the myth of Paeon, who was the physician to the ancient Greek gods. It was said that he had a store filled with drugs, herbs and flowers of all shapes and smells, which could cure any ailment.
When Hades, god of the underworld, was shot by Heracles’ arrow, Paeon was tasked with healing him. He took the root of a beautiful flower and extracted a milky liquid from it, which he applied to the wound. It healed, and the flower became known as the peony.
A second story tells of how Paeon was in fact a student under Asclepius, who was the official Greek god of medicine. When Paeon began to show great promise his master became jealous, and threatened to kill Paeon.
In order to protect him, Zeus changed Paeon into a flower, and this flower became known as the peony.
The third theory of how the peony got its name, relates to a beautiful nymph named Peonia. It was said that the god Apollo was flirting with her one day, when the goddess Aphrodite saw them.
She became so enraged with jealousy that she instantly turned the nymph into a flower. That flower was called the peony.
Symbolism Of The Peony Flower
Due to the story of Peonia, the peony flower has come to symbolize bashfulness and beauty in western culture.
This meaning has been further enhanced due to the fact that peonies take a long time to establish when they are moved or first planted, but once they finally do bloom, they continue to do so for many decades.
This links to the theme of female bashfulness, and coming-of-age. However, in Japan it symbolizes something quite different.
In the east, the peony is seen as a very masculine flower. It is used in rituals and ceremonies to mark military bravery and honor, and is therefore seen as the flower of the warrior. Its flamboyant blooms are seen less as petticoat frills, and more as reflective of the warrior’s garb.
Through art and culture, this meaning evolved, and the flower has become a symbol of masculine youth and prowess, pleasure and playfulness. A disregard for consequences and recklessness with regard for rules are also associated with the flower.
In China, where the flower is thought to have first originated, the peony is very much tied to the symbolism of wealth and riches, and was favored by emperors for many centuries.
Peony Flower Color Meanings
Peonies come in a variety of different colors and shades, but three of the most common are pink, white and red. So full and voluptuous are their blooms that they are favorites among florists and flower arrangers.
Peonies add drama and impact to any arrangement or bouquet, and their different colors symbolize different things.
Pink – pink peonies are very much associated with love, romance, and happiness. They have a sweetness that could melt any heart, and as such, are often used in anniversary and wedding bouquets.
They are celebratory, fun and joyful, and brighten up any birthday arrangement or celebratory display.
White – white peonies are generally associated with bashfulness. They have a grace and fragility that is both understated and poignant.
As such, white peonies are often used in apology bouquets, when a person needs to say sorry and make amends for something they have done. Their subtle beauty is elegant and tactful.
Crimson – crimson or red peonies have so much power and impact. They are associated with bravery, vigor and passion.
They are used in grand celebratory displays and showstopping arrangements to bestow honor on those being celebrated. They also work very well in Valentine’s bouquets, as a symbol of amorous love.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Peony Flower
The peony is a flowering plant of the Paeonia genus, from the Paeoniaceae family. These flowers are native to Asia, Europe and North Western America and there are currently thought to be 33 different species within the genus. There are over 6500 different varieties of peony and more are being cultivated all the time.
They flower in late spring, early summer, and have a short flowering time of between 7 and 10 days. They require lots of exposure to sunlight and a temperate climate to prosper.
Most peonies are herbaceous plants that grow between 1 and 3 feet in height. However, some species are woody shrubs that can grow as high as 11 feet tall. In recent times, a hybrid has been cultivated which combines elements of both tree and herbaceous varieties. These peonies are called Itoh peonies.
The Netherlands is currently the largest producer of cut peonies in the world, accounting for over 40 percent of all growth and distribution.
However, there is a fast growing competitor on the scene. Alaska has become an extremely successful and prolific producer of cut peonies thanks to its cool temperatures and extended hours of sunlight.
As peonies love exposure to the sun, Alaska is able to cultivate and harvest these flowers for longer periods of time. When the rest of the world’s peonies have closed up for winter, Alaskan peonies are still able to bloom and grow.
Special Occasions For The Peony flower
Peony flowers are a very popular choice for bridal bouquets and wedding displays, due to their associations with joy, happiness, and romance. They are also the flower that is traditionally given on 12th wedding anniversaries.
In Japan and China, the flowers were used during special occasions to honor warriors and soldiers for their bravery, valor, courage and sacrifice.
Peony Flower Cultural Significance
In Siberia, red peonies are thought to represent the blood of fallen soldiers. Ideas of sacrifice and grief are associated with the flowers and they are often included in funeral wreaths and memorial displays.
In Europe, particularly in the Victirian era, peonies represented female bashfulness. They were considered to be coy and delicate, and were often given by admirers to young women who they sought to impress.
Peony Flower Facts
Here are some fun facts about the peonies.
- Peonies come in pretty much every color except for blue.
- Peony plants can live for as long as 100 years, and still produce exquisite blooms
- Some varieties of peony flower can grow as large as 10 inches wide!
- Peonies are popular cut flowers, and they can last for up to 7 days in a vase.
- Peony buds can last as long as 3 months when kept in a fridge.
- In 1957, the peony became the official state flower of Indiana in the USA
- Peonies require at least 6 hours of sunlight each day in order to blossom and grow
- Peony petals are actually edible, and were particularly popular in Chinese cuisine
- Rabbits and deer absolutely hate the taste and smell of peonies
- Ants are the opposite. They love peonies, and are used to ward other insects away from the plants.
- Peonies can produce sweet nectar even after they have been cut from their stems
- One of the most popular varieties of peony flower is the Sarah Bernhart, named after a famous French stage actress from the Victorian era.
- Coral Charm peonies are a variety that can actually change color! Simply magical.
Peony Flower Uses
Although the flower is now mainly used as an ornamental bloom, the peony was initially used in Chinese medicine. The seeds and roots of the plant were used to alleviate headaches and migraines, and to help those suffering from asthma.
The leaves of the plant were used to treat convulsions, as well as liver disease, kidney disease and several other illnesses.
Studies in more recent years have suggested that peonies may have mood boosting properties that can help with anxiety and depression. They are also thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to treat blood clots and alleviate bodily aches and pains.
They have been used to treat bladder and kidney issues in European medicine, but they are known to create gastrointestinal problems if they are over consumed by humans, dogs or cats.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Peony flower tattoo
Peonies are very popular as tattoos, particularly in Japan and China. They are often chosen by men rather than women, as they are associated with masculinity in eastern culture.
Along with carp, koi fish and cranes, peony tattoos are thought to capture the transitory nature of our time on earth, and the value in living life for each day. The flower’s blossoms are both fragile and flamboyant, symbolizing how quickly youth and beauty pass.
Peony tattoos often symbolize a ‘devil-may-care’ attitude and a youthful recklessness. Masculine qualities of bravery, physical prowess, and sexual virility are all tied up in the image of this flower.
The idea that risk-taking will lead to rewards and future prosperity is also linked to this flower, due to its associations with wealth and good fortune.
Peonies often form a secondary element or ornamental frame for other images. Chinese dragons, Japanese snakes, and even Samurai soldiers are often depicted as being surrounded by these flowers. Nobility, service and bravery are all communicated through their image.
Peony flowers are large, ruffled blooms with layers and layers of color and intricacy. They are one of nature’s true beauties, and bring so much visual impact and splendor to any display, bouquet or garden.
This is surely why they have proven so popular with botanists and florists over the centuries, and why they remain such a favorite today.
Their symbolic meaning, as with any flower, varies depending on where they are in the world. Whilst in the east, they tend to be associated with masculine prowess, bravery, honor and vigor, in the west they are associated with youth, beauty, romance, love and happiness.
The sheer number of different varieties of peony indicates how successfully they have been cultivated and enjoyed. So, if you want to boost your mood, prosperity and happiness, a vase of these short-lived but sensational flowers will surely do the trick!
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