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All About Peonies: Name, History & Meaning

| Shirlyn Ting

All About Peonies: Name, History & Meaning

When you think of flowers, a few names might come to mind: the timeless rose, bright sunflower and classy tulip. But do you know what is one of the most versatile flowers out there?

It is none other than the peony.

Peonies might be relatively less popular that the flowers mentioned above, but you can find them in a variety of arrangements from grand opening flower stands, wedding bouquets and more.

Find out more about this underrated flower by reading on!

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

The name of the peony flower originated in the Ancient Greek pantheon and the mythology surrounding it. Legend has it, Paeon, a medical student of Asclepius and a healer to the gods, angered Asclepius - the Ancient Greek god of medicine - by performing better than what Asclepius could respect.

Infuriated and acting out of a sense of jealousy, Asclepius threatened to kill Paeon. Zeus, the King of the Gods, preserved Paeon's life by turning him into a flower which today is known as the peony.

The Peony Flower in History

The Peony Flower in History

The peony flower has a spectacular history ranging from Ancient Greece to China, the Renaissance and farther on still.

The act which inspired Asclepius' rage was Paeon's discovery of the healing properties of the peony, in particularity the roots. Paeon obtained this knowledge from the goddess Leto, who told Paeon that the flower growing on the precipices of Mount Olympus relieved the agony of childbirth. The peony did not yet have a name and thus, as mentioned previously, obtained its name from Paeon at Zeus' behest.

The peonies healing reputation grew and as a result became the national symbol for China. Adding already to its reputation, the peony flower became known to Chinese everywhere as a symbol of wealth, success, grace and dignity. As recent as 1988, the Chinese released a collection of stamps to represent its friendship with Japan where a peony flower sat next to the cherry blossom, the latter being the national symbol of Japan.

Peonies also appear in Renaissance art. Since only the wealthy could afford to be literate, messages were carried through symbolic meaning in paintings and drawings. During the renaissance, the appearance of peony seeds carried on the message of its healing properties. 

Common Uses of Peonies

1. Grand Openings

Grand Openings

Peonies, due to their opulent appearance and revered reputation, have become a firm favourite ornamental decoration all around the world. It is for this reason they have been used as decorations at major events and this is no less true than at grand openings.

Grand openings are when peonies first bloom and are at their absolute best. While they already carry an affinity for beauty and healing, there is no sight more awe inspiring than watching a peony bloom in the sun.

2. Weddings

Weddings

To this day, the reputation and meaning given to peonies by the Chinese has almost become a universal symbol and because of this, peonies have become the flowers of choice at weddings.

The Chinese mantra attached to the flowers of wealth, success, grace and dignity is a symbol of hope for any marriage, hence why it is a favourite, almost traditional choice, for bouquet arrangements.

3. Anniversaries

Anniversaries

As with weddings, the peonies distinct reputation and symbology confers to anniversaries as well. A marriage can start out strong and prosper to a family of good health, financial comfort and stability.

The peony then becomes a gesture of continuing the act of faith, loyalty and structure when presented on anniversaries, its symbolism making it a popular choice from marriage through the time-tested bond.


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