Peony (Paeonia)

Explore shades of meaning behind this beautiful bloomer.

Related To:
Heirloom Peonies

Heirloom Peonies

Heirloom peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)

©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Discover the rich history behind spring peony flowers. These long-lived perennials are legacy plants in the garden, growing for generations with little maintenance. The blossoms are luxurious, and peony meaning is equally lush with an international history that spans millennia. 

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. Peony meaning in China embraces several concepts. On its own, the peony flower represents wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. 

During the Sui and Tang dynasties, peony flowers held places of honor in the imperial palace. It was during this time that peony symbolism in China came to embrace honor, nobility and high value. The Chinese culture also derives peony meaning from the phases of the flower opening. The partnership of ants and opening blooms give peonies meaning of industriousness and optimism. The fully open peony bloom symbolizes peace and the rewards of labor. 

Peony flower meaning in Japan is associated with fortune, wealth and nobility, as well as protection. The peony meaning of protection also weaves through Greek culture, where the botanical name of Paeonia originates. In Greece, Paeon was a student of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. The student’s knowledge grew to exceed that of his teacher, and in jealousy Asclepius sought to kill Paeon. Zeus intervened, saving Paeon’s life by turning him into a flower, the peony. Thus peony meaning came to represent protection. 

Peony blossoms have a rich association with romance and marriage. In the Victorian era, people were fascinated with the intimate relationship between ants and a peony flower’s unfurling. This intimate partnership of ants with the blooms brought peony meaning to embody female purity and chastity. 

Other legends hold that timid nymphs hide between peony petals, and so peony meaning includes bashfulness. As these ideas of purity and bashfulness joined together, peony flowers came to hold a special place in weddings in Victorian England, where a bashful bride carried peony blooms in her wedding bouquet. 

The lush blossoms of peonies have rich associations with love and romance. Peonies open full, round blooms packed with petals. These lovely, luxurious blossoms have come to represent good fortune in marriage, along with prosperity and a happy marriage overflowing with peace. 

From the Victorian era until now, roses are used for courting and expressing a heart of love. But suitors familiar with the language of flowers give peonies when they have won the heart of their beloved. Modern peony meaning continues to include this idea of a loving lifetime commitment, which is fitting, considering this perennial’s long-lived status in the garden.