"I equate peonies with love because they're the first blooms of summer." - Isaac Mizrahi
Everything You Need to Know About Peonies
(click each topic to learn more about peonies)
- The Innumerable Variety of Peonies
- Peonies Floriography (Language of Peonies)
- Peonies Throughout the Ages
- Symbolism of Peonies in Different Cultures
- Peonies and Their Uses
- Peonies in Literature
Peonies have been a gardener’s favorite for centuries because of their lush scrumptious blossoms and captivating fragrance. These large magnificent flowers, with delicate petals and rich texture, add splashes of color and extravagant beauty to any landscape or bouquet. Peonies are among the world’s most beloved perennials. Last but not the least, they have one of the longest lifespans of any flower, and bloom for a generation or more with little or no attention, making them any gardener’s favorite.
Did you know?
Peonies can change color! Just when you think they can’t get any lovelier, some peonies, like the Coral Charm variety, change color as they bloom!
“A rose is a rose, but a peony is a friend forever!”
The Innumerable Variety of Peonies
Peonies may be considered as one of the miracles of the gardening world. Not only are they intoxicatingly fragrant and delicately royal, they can stand through the test of time with an excellent chance of outliving their gardeners. Botanically, peonies fall into the genus Paeonia. The common or garden peony is Paeonia lactiflora. It’s also sometimes referred to as Chinese peony, which is appropriate, since the peony is a traditional floral symbol in China. The Paeonia genus includes more than 30 species and hundreds of varieties, some of which may be dated back to thousands of years ago in China.
The most commonly grown peony plants may be classified into three main categories:
- Herbaceous peonies - most common; usually bloom in early or mid summer.
- Tree peonies/Woody Shrub peonies - known for their large, fragrant flowers and delicate, fine foliage
- Intersectional/Itoh Peonies - modern cross between herbaceous and tree types; bred to have large, fragrant flowers and fine foliage
These perennial garden classics are further classified by their flower form. The shape of peony flowers ranges from airy delicate blooms, to bold frilly pom pom puffs. These blooms, may be categorized as follows:
- Full Double
In China, “peony” is called 牡丹 (mǔdān) means “the most beautiful”.
Peony Floriography (Language of Peonies)
Cultivated for centuries, these timeless, subtly elegant, and undoubtedly sophisticated peonies have always been shrouded with layers of symbolism and meaning. As much as they are known for their decorative value, these lush blossoms also have ties with love and romance in the modern world. They bloom in a variety of gorgeous colors and come in shades of white, cream, pink, rose, deep red, and sometimes yellow. Purple, orange, and coral peonies also exist and provide brilliance to gardens and floral arrangements, but they are less common. They are worthy of any special moment, big or small, and because they are available in so many colors, there is undoubtedly an appropriate peony for any occasion in life.
Pink Peonies - Most romantic type of peony; symbolizes the beauty of marriage; represents love at first sight
White Peonies - Apology, bashfulness, shame and regret, expressing remorse and making amends
Red Peonies - Passionate love and romance
Yellow Peonies - New beginnings and good fortune
Peonies Throughout the Ages
The peony is deeply rooted throughout history. It has been around for over 4,000 years. They were first seen in the eastern part of the world, in Chinese and Tibetan gardens. By the eighth century, these graceful, luscious, versatile blossoms had found their way to Japan. The peony plant was appreciated by different cultures not only for its ornamental beauty in imperial gardens, but also for its curative abilities. They were used to treat bladder ailments, stomach pains, other internal afflictions, and even night tremors.
In the Middle Ages, the Christians thought the peony plant was a symbol of wealth, health, and beauty. They used the seeds and roots in herbal teas and medicines to cure a variety of ailments from the inside out. They also began to create hybrids of peonies because they thought that it was going to increase its curative powers. A lot of these hybrids are available even today.
Symbolism of Peonies in Different Cultures
Peonies are one of the world’s most coveted perennials. Few flowers rival the ravishing peony that is known for its delicate petals and rich texture. Aside from the fact that they’re wonderfully fragrant, and make bright and uplifting additions to any garden or bouquet, they carry a rich history of their uses in medicine and cultivation, and are still greatly appreciated in special regard worldwide.
- Early American settlers brought peony plants across the ocean and planted them on American soil to remind them of the homes they had left behind.
- Peonies are important here in the United States. In fact, it is the official flower of the state of Indiana.
- In China, peonies are called the ‘queen of flowers’ or ‘king of flowers’. Some reports actually suggest that there was a time in history when peonies were regarded as the national flower of China.
- In China, peonies have always represented wealth and honor. They were found in the gardens of the Imperial Palace during the Sui and Tang Dynasty eras and therefore have become associated with royalty in the country.
- A city in China called Luoyang is also known as the City of the Peony since it houses the National Peony Garden with over a hundred different varieties of the lovely blossom, and celebrates an annual festival of peonies with millions of visitors.
- In Chinese art, the peony is a symbol of wealth, power, and class; therefore, it is often seen not only in traditional paintings, silk embroidery, national clothes, woodblocks, and decorations but in their poetry and literature as well.
- The peony is also a much-loved subject of Japanese artists. They have used it to adorn tapestries and porcelain. In Japan, peonies are considered “the prime minister of flowers”, and symbolize good fortune and bravery.
- Famous artists from Vincent Van Gogh to Pierre-Auguste Renoir were so inspired by the beauty of the peony that they tried to capture them in some of the world’s most priceless masterpieces.
- Edouard Manet, another impressionist, painted his own peony bouquet in 1864 and Renoir’s peonies were painted around 1880. Van Gogh created at least two in 1886 and possibly another around 1889-90.
- Western artists also use peonies as a theme for oil paintings
- In Greek mythology, the peony is both a symbol of mercy and compassion and one of jealousy and ill-fortune.
FUN PEONY FACTS
- Peony plants can live to be 100 years and still produce flowers.
- Peony plants can grow to be 10 inches depending on the variety.
- Each different variety of peonies smells different! The most fragrant peonies are pink.
- Peonies come in every color but blue. This is because there is no true blue pigment in plants.
- Peonies are known as the Northern Flowers because they prefer harsh winter temperatures.
- For sixty years, peonies have been an important crop flower in Alaska because they can grow comfortably in colder climates.
- In the beginning, peony buds are no larger than a golf ball. As they bloom, they open to three times their original size.
- Marco Polo described peony blossoms as “roses as big as cabbages.”
- Peonies are considered to be the 12th wedding anniversary flower because of their rich association with honor, fortune, romance and happy relationships!
- Weddings are perhaps the most popular occasion to honor peonies since these flowers symbolize love and happy marriages.
Peonies and Their Uses
Today, peonies are most often used in decoration or celebration - from floral bouquets to show-stopping background floral arrangements, but they have had quite a storied past!
- Research has shown that peony plants have ‘immune system’ and ‘mood boosting’ properties, and can be used to effectively treat inflammation, blood clots, and general pain.
- In fact, in Ancient China, the roots and seeds of peonies have been used in medicine and holistic treatments like migraines, asthma, convulsions, liver disease, etc. for centuries.
- When the peony was brought to Europe in the 1200s, it was used to ease childbirth, ward off evil spirits and cure gallstones.
- Ancient Chinese texts mention that peony was used for flavoring food. Confucius (551–479 BC) is quoted to have said: “I eat nothing without its sauce. I enjoy it very much, because of its flavor.”
- The buds and leaves of the peony are used in China to make a delicate white tea which many believe to have medicinal qualities.
- Peony petals are also edible – add them to a salad or crystallize them with sugar to create the prettiest cake decorations. Cooked and sweetened peony petals are eaten as dessert in China.
Peonies in Literature
Peonies are not only appreciated for their beauty and medicinal purposes, but also widely acknowledged in literature. The captivating beauty of peonies gripped the hearts of numerous poets and authors. In one of his poems, Li Bai compared Empress Yang's beautiful visage to an exquisite flower of peony, and the flower often appeared as one of the key subjects in Chinese literature. A famous Japanese ghost story called Botan Dōrō ("牡丹燈籠": The Peony Lantern), is also believed to be an adaption of the Chinese Mudan Dengji ("牡丹灯记": Tales of the Peony Lantern), a short novel written during the Ming Dynasty.
Let’s take a look at some popular peony quotes:
- “In my mind, no other flower can compete with the perfection and the fragrance of the Peony. The silky petals, delicate shape, romantic shades and graceful foliage make this flower my all time favorite and I’m not alone. Brides plan their wedding dates around peony season. Flower enthusiasts plant them all through their gardens. Florists go crazy over all the different shades available from white, to coral, yellow to reds and every imaginable pink! Sadly, this bloom can only be enjoyed in nature for a very short time each year. That’s the reason their paper counterparts have become such a hit!” - Chantal Larocque, Bold Beautiful Paper Flowers: More Than 50 Easy Paper Blooms and Gorgeous Arrangements You Can Make at Home
- “If the Peony flower is not number one in your heart…I’m sure it’s not too far down your list of favorite blooms!” - Chantal Larocque, Bold Beautiful Paper Flowers: More Than 50 Easy Paper Blooms and Gorgeous Arrangements You Can Make at Home
- "Others said May was best, that sweet green time when lilacs bloomed and gardens along Main Street were filled with sugary pink peonies and Dutch tulips." - Alice Hoffman
- “The little boy nodded at the peony and the peony seemed to nod back. The little boy was neat, clean and pretty. The peony was unchaste, disheveled as peonies must be, and at the height of its beauty.( ... ) Every hour is filled with such moments, big with significance for someone.” - Robertson Davies
- “Dirt is chaos, gritty, full of bugs and decay, but from that dirt comes such immense beauty. Roses, tulips, tomatoes, peonies, raspberries, oranges, magnolias...and even me.” - R.S. Grey
- “Where do dreams come from?...they slink out of books, they lurk in the stacks of libraries. Out of pages turned they rise like the scent of peonies and infect the brain with their promises.” - Marge Piercy
- “To have children is to plant roses, muguets, lavender, lilac, gardenia, stock, peonies, tuberose, hyacinth...it is to achieve a whole sense, a grand sense one did not priorly know. It is to give one's garden another dimension. Perfume of life itself.” - Julia Glass
Here, at Altenew, we are in love with this rich flora that can be found in the world around us.
Let’s take a look at the amazing product line up we have with our majestic peonies: