30 Mar 2011


For Peony, my Peony, Hath strength to make me whole,
She gives her heart of beauty... For the healing of my soul.
  Bliss Carman, Peony

The peony has enjoyed a long and illustrious reputation in China as the king of flowers. As a symbol of utmost beauty (particularly of the feminine sort), affection, an omen for luck and the emblem of the royal family itself, the peony was for centuries an inspiration for poets and artists across the empire, a trend that was enthusiastically taken up across the sea in Japan. The white flowers were traditionally linked to girls who were as witty as they were beautiful. In the western hemisphere, the peony is known as a bringer of good health, and is in fact named after Paeon, a Greek deity of healing. Indeed, the peony was a popular ingredient in traditional medicine. It is a particularly good gift for women in childbirth as the seeds were once used to ease their labour pains and the flower carries the wish of a happy life for the newborn baby. In a bride’s bouquet, it symbolises a long and happy marriage—a blessing that can be renewed when given on the couple’s 12th anniversary. Peonies are also the flowers of wealth and prosperity. Although its luxurious bloom of petals might seem to betoken a confident personality, it is in fact more fitting for bashful souls or coy (rather than brazen) flirts. After an argument with a friend or partner, what lovelier way to beg forgiveness and acknowledge your shame than with a gorgeous bunch of peonies?

*     Affection
*     Bashful
*     Coy
*     Good health or healing
*     Good luck
*     Happy life
*     Happy marriage
*     Most beautiful
*     Prosperous
*     Shame
*     Witty as well as beautiful (White)
*     ‘Happy 12th anniversary!’
*     ‘I beg your forgiveness.’

Origin: Asia, southern Europe, western North America.

Season: Peonies bloom in late spring and early summer. In China, they are symbols of spring while in Japan they are the official flower of June. However, they can be bought year-round.

Colour: Peonies range from all shades of red (including pink) to white and yellow. 

Author: Alethea Dean

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