Peonies are the queens of the flower garden! With lush flowers, saturated colors, and a long life (these perennials can live up to 100 years!), peonies get all the attention when in bloom. Depending on the variety and weather conditions each year, they bloom from early May to late June. “Peonies are a beautiful, old-fashioned perennial that’s been popular in gardens since Victorian times.
“They’re a tough plant that doesn’t need coddled once established, and they don’t have to be dug up and divided every few years like other perennials.”
They range from exquisitely delicate singles to large and lush doubles, with shades from pure white to the deepest red.
6 fascinating facts about peonies
1. Peonies Have Centuries of History
Peonies are native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America. Early in Chinese history, the peony was considered the national flower (it is now officially the plum blossom). Members of the Tang Dynasty of China began breeding peonies in the imperial courts in the 7th century BCE. Their popularity spread to Japan in the early 11th century and to France and England in the 18th century. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, peonies began taking off in popularity in the U.S. as well. The peony even became the state flower of Indiana in 1957, replacing the zinnia for the honor.
2. There’s a Huge Variety of Peonies
There are more than 6,500 varieties of peonies, with new ones being introduced all the time. They all fit into three main categories: tree, herbaceous, and itoh (which is a cross between the other two). Most varieties are happiest in full sun, but some tree peonies do best in part shade. Peonies usually bloom from late spring to early summer, with early, midseason, and late blooming varieties enabling you to extend the flower show.
3. Their Name is Rooted in Greek Mythology
The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), who was a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. One version of the story goes that Paeon, known as the healer of the gods, used a peony to treat a wound for Zeus. When Asclepius became murderously jealous of his pupil, Zeus saved Paeon by turning him into a peony flower.
4. Peonies Have Medicinal Properties
Studies have 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, the roots and seeds of peonies have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat headaches, asthma, convulsions, liver disease, and several more ailments. Peonies also have been used in European herbal medicine as a remedy for bladder and kidney problems. However, peonies can cause gastrointestinal upset for both people and animals such as cats and dogs if consumed in large amounts.
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5. Peony Flowers Have Lots of Symbolism
Besides their fragrance and wide availability as cut flowers, peonies are also a common flower choice with brides because of their symbolism. Peonies represent romance and love, and are considered a good omen for a happy marriage. Peonies are also the traditional flower for 12th wedding anniversaries. Interestingly, the flowers represented shame and shyness during in the Victorian Era. In China and Japan, peonies stand for strong and positive virtues such as bravery, honor, respect, nobility, good fortune, and prosperity.
CREDIT: JANET MESIC MACKIE
6. Alaska Produces Millions of Cut Peonies
The Netherlands is the largest cut peony producer (over 40 percent of the estimated total worldwide production), but an up-and-coming source of peonies is (surprisingly) Alaska. The longer, cooler growing season there allows for larger blooms later in the growing season. The most commonly grown variety is ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ which has soft pink, petal-packed double blooms, because it is one of the few that florists will request by name.
If you love lots of petals and fragrance, peonies are the flower for you. These flowers carry a rich history of meaning, medicinal use, and myth, and are a delight to grow in the garden. If you choose to plant peonies, just keep this in mind: These amazing perennials might outlive you!