Peony Meanings, Symbolism & Folklore + Peony Uses & Care

Peony Flowers

Peony meanings include ephemerality, bashfulness, beauty, wealth and abundance, bravery and honor, healing, and eternal love. Originally used in ancient Chinese medicine, peony flowers have come to have important symbolic meaning to many people. In this article, we’ll explore all aspects of peony symbolism and meanings, as well as peony folklore, uses, care, and more.

Peony Blooms

What do peonies symbolize?

Here’s a quick list of peony meanings and symbols. We’ll go into more details on each below.

  • Ephemerality
  • Bashfulness
  • Beauty
  • Wealth and Abundance
  • Bravery and Honor
  • Healing
  • Eternal Love

Meaning of the Name Peony

Before we get into more details on peony flower symbolism, let’s take a look at the meaning of the name itself.

The origin of the name “peony” comes from the Latin word paeony. This is derived from the Greek word pauon, which means “to heal.” In ancient times, peonies were believed to have healing properties.

In Greek mythology, the peony is named after a man named Paeon, who was a student of the Greek god of medicine and healing – Asclepius. According to Greek myth, Asclepius became jealous of his pupil’s talents and wished him harm. However, Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.

In another version of the story, the god Apollo was besotted with a nymph called Paeonia. Unfortunately, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was jealous of this attachment. So, she turned Paeonia into a flower, which became the peony.1

Detailed Peony Meanings

Peach Peonies

Ephemerality

Peonies are like hibiscus flowers in that they only bloom for a short periods. This is about 7 – 10 days during late spring through early summer.2

Because their blooms only grace us with their beauty for a short period of time, peonies are symbols of ephemerality. They remind us that time is fleeting, so, we should make the most of every minute. Peony flowers remind us to seize the day and take advantage of opportunities when they come our way.

Peony Meaning: Bashfulness

According to peony mythology, nymphs hid in the ruffled petals of the peony’s complex blooms.3 Thus, peony meaning also includes shyness or bashfulness. In this way, the meaning of these lovely flowers is quite the opposite of the zinnia flower, whose meanings include tribute and acclaim.

Beauty

In China, the peony symbolizes beauty. While you could say that all flowers are symbols of beauty, the peony is especially exalted in Chinese culture. In fact, the word peony is synonymous with “most beautiful” in Chinese.

Wealth and Abundance

In China, the peony was once the national flower. In fact, nicknames the Chinese gave to it translate to “flower of riches and honor” and “king of the flowers.” 4 Hence, the peony’s large, complex blossoms are symbols of wealthy, prosperity, and abundance.

For this reason, peony flowers make wonderful additions to gardens where you want to bring more prosperity to a home or other environment. Or when there is an area of your life that you want to see grow, such as a family or a creative or business venture. For these reasons, peonies make lovely gifts for people who are hoping to grow or expand something.

Bravery and Honor

Peony flowers also symbolize bravery, honor, and sacrifice. Notably, in Serbia, red peonies were planted to honor the blood spilled by Serbian warriors in the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century.5

Peony Symbolism: Healing

Before they were used as ornamental flowers in gardens and bridal bouquets, peony flowers were used in ancient medicines. In fact, as mentioned earlier, they were associated with the Greek god of healing and medicine. Furthermore, they were used in traditional Chinese medicine. Thus, peony meaning also includes healing.

Eternal Love

While peonies only blossom for a short period of time, the plants themselves are quite hardy. Perennial peonies can live for a century, blooming year after year. Because of this, the peony is also a symbol for eternal love. Indeed, you will often see peony blossoms in bridal bouquets as a hopeful sign that the marriage will withstand the test of time. Furthermore, peonies are also an official flower for 12th wedding anniversaries.

Peony Color Meanings

Peony flowers come in a rainbow of colors, and some are even multi-colored. While color symbolism is subjective, there are some traditional meanings applied to the different colors of peony flowers and the occasions in which to give them. Here are some of those meanings:

Red Peony Flower Meanings

Red Peony Up Close

Peonies come in a range of red hues, from coral to crimson. Red peonies symbolize wealth, abundance, and romantic love as well as honor and sacrifice. In addition, they can symbolize bashfulness. In fact, a person who is bashful might be described as a “blushing peony.”

Red peonies make ideal gifts for wedding anniversaries and long-term romantic relationships. They’re also appropriate as a gift for a romantic partner when you are planning on building a life together and hope for wealth and prosperity. For example, you may be buying a home together or starting a family.

Pink Peony Meanings

Peonies come in a range of pink hues, from light pink to blush, rose, fuchsia, and hot pink. Pink peony flower meanings include bashfulness, affection, platonic love, and romantic love.

Pink peonies make lovely gifts for female relatives, especially daughters and nieces, new moms, or for anyone who loves the color pink. They also make great gifts for people who are graduating and starting a new career as they symbolize long-term success and prosperity.

Orange Peony Meanings

Peonies also come in a few different shades of orange, from pale peach to yellowy-orange. They are appropriate for almost any occasion or for anyone who loves the color orange.

In addition, the color orange symbolizes health, healing, longevity, and optimism. As peonies themselves are also symbols of healing, orange peonies are especially emblematic of health and vitality. As such, peonies make wonderful gifts for people who are dealing with a health challenge or who are working on adopting healthier habits that they hope they’ll stick to for the long-term.

Yellow Peony Meaning

Yellow Peony

Yellow peonies symbolize wealth, prosperity, and happiness. They make wonderful gifts or additions to gardens for people who have just moved into a new home or who are starting a new venture of some kind. They are also lovely for new parents or graduates.

Green Peony Flower Meaning

Green peony flower meaning includes new beginnings, renewal, growth, and prosperity. Thus, green peonies are perfect symbols or gifts for new parents, graduations, and those who are starting a new job or business. In addition, they make lovely housewarming gifts.

Blue Peony Meanings

Blue peony flowers symbolize loyalty and trust, as in a true-blue friend. They make great gifts for new business or creative partners, or even long-term friends and clients. Furthermore, blue peonies are lovely gifts when you are asking for forgiveness or hope to bring a relationship to a new level of trust.

Purple Peony Meaning

Purple Peony Flower

Peonies come in a range of purple shades, from lavender to blooms that have dark purple centers. Purple is a color of honor, respect, royalty, and wealth. In addition, it’s the color of peace and understanding, as purple blends the warm color of red with the cool color of blue.

Purple peony flowers are ideal when you want to ask for forgiveness or as gifts for those you respect and honor. In addition, they make beautiful additions to peace or meditation gardens.

White Peony Meanings

White Peony Flowers

White peonies symbolize purity, innocence, hopefulness, and faith. They are ideal for bridal bouquets or christenings or other spiritual events. White peony flowers also represent honor and commitment to one’s spiritual faith.

Black Peony Meanings

Some varieties of peonies come in dark magenta and purple shades that are so dark they appear black. Black is a color of elegance, formality, and rebellion. So, black peonies are perfect for entrepreneurs who think outside of the box and who are starting a new venture. It can be your way of saying you believe their idea is built to last. Black peonies also make lovely gifts for the rebels in your life.

While black is an unusual color for flowers, black peonies can strike a gorgeous balance in a garden, offsetting vivid colors and white hues.

Peony Spiritual Meanings

On a spiritual level, peony flowers symbolize the long-term commitment to one’s spiritual faith as well as the belief in the eternal life of the soul. In addition, peony spiritual meaning symbolizes honoring God or a higher power. Peonies also represent the healing aspect of prayer and meditation, and how not everything can be explained by science.

Associated Spirit Animals

Ant on a Peony Flower

Peony flowers share synergies and spiritual meanings with certain wild animals and insects. For example, peonies secrete a nectar that ants love to eat. As ants eat the nectar, they protect the peony plants from other insects that want to feed on the peony buds.6 In addition bees, wasps, butterflies, and hummingbirds all pollinate peony flowers, thus extending their life force. Furthermore, peonies are a food source for deer, rabbits, beavers, and squirrels.

On a spiritual level, peony flowers share meanings and symbolism with butterflies and dragonflies, as they are all symbols of the fleeting nature of time and reminders to us to seize the moment. Peonies also share meanings with the eagle, hawk, raven, otter, and seahorse spirit animals, as all of these animals mate for life and are symbols of eternal love.

Peony Folklore and Mythology

While they are native to China, peony flowers are loved by people around the world. So, they are subjects in the mythology and folklore of a number of cultures. Here are some of those stories:

Peony Meaning in China

Chinese Peony Art

As there was once a tulip mania in the Netherlands (or Holland) in the 17th century, there was also peony mania in China centuries ago, particularly, during the Tang dynasty from the 7th – 10th centuries.7 Eventually, tree peonies became very popular among artists. And when the famous explorer Marco Polo first laid his eyes on peonies, he described them as “roses as big as cabbages.”8

Peonies in Japan

In Japan, the peony symbolizes honor, beauty, and good fortune. The Japanese have a staying that describes a beautiful and graceful woman. They say, “She stands and sits like a peony and walks like a lily.” The Japanese also make paper peonies with the paper-folding art origami.

The Peony Lantern

The Peony Lantern

Botan Dōrō, The Peony Lantern. Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, ca 1889 – 1892.

There is a famous Japanese ghost story called Botan Dōrō, which translates to The Peony Lantern. In the story, a samurai is lured by two beautiful women, one of whom is carrying a lantern and a bouquet of peonies. I won’t give away the story, other than to say that in ancient Japanese culture, peony lanterns were used to honor the dead…9

Peony Meaning in Greek Mythology

As mentioned earlier, peonies were symbols of healing and beauty in ancient Greece. In one myth, the peony is named for Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the god of healing and medicine. As the story goes, Asclepius became jealous of Paeon’s talents, so he conspired to kill him. But Zeus intervened and turned Paeon into a peony flower.

Another myth ascribes the peony to a beautiful nymph named Paeonia, whom the god Apollo fell for. In this case, it was Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was jealous. So, she turned Paeonia into a flower, which became the peony.

Here are a couple of other cultural facts about peony flowers:

  • Ancient Europeans believe peonies cured a range of diseases.
  • The Victorians had some negative superstitions about the flowers. They thought dead peonies were bad luck. Likewise, digging up healthy peonies would disturb fairies, making them grouchy, which also brought bad luck.
  • The peony is the state flower of Indiana.

Peony Flower Tattoo

Peony Tattoo

A peony tattoo makes a lovely design for a tattoo because not only are these flowers beautiful and complex, they also symbolize so many positive attributes. For instance, a peony flower tattoo can be a demonstration of your eternal love for a soulmate. Or it may symbolize that you have healed your life in some way, whether getting over a physical health challenge or emotional pain. While tattoos are highly personal to the person whose skin they adorn, hopefully understanding the qualities that peonies embody will bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.

Peony Flower Uses

The peony flower and plant have been used in traditional Asian and European medicine for centuries. For example, peonies have been used to treat everything from headaches to asthma, epilepsy, eczema, and even pain during childbirth. In addition, the peony flower is frequently used in perfumes because of its delicate, sweet scent.10

Peony flowers are also edible. You can cook and sweeten peony petals and use them in desserts, jams, or as garnishes for lemonade.11

Peony Planting and Care Tips

Peony Planting and Care

Planting and caring for peony flowers is relatively easy. Here are some tips:

Planting Peonies

  • Season: Plant your peony tubers in the autumn, generally from September to October, depending on your planting zone.
  • Sunlight: Plant them in a location that, ideally, gets full sun. They will bloom optimally with 6 – 8 hours of full sun per day.
  • Soil: Choose fertile, humus-rich, and moist soil with plenty of drainage. Mixing in compost before you plant is better than fertilizing later. When placing tubers, plant them about 2 feet in the ground, and space them about 3 – 4 feet apart to allow for proper air circulation once they start growing.

It can take peonies a few years to establish themselves. But as mentioned earlier, these plants were built to last. Some peony plants live for up to 100 years.

Caring for Peonies

If the peony stems seem weak, you can give them support with tomato cages or peony rings. Like geraniums, as soon as the peony blooms start to fade, remove the heads to save the plant’s resources for growing new blooms.12

It’s easy to see why people love peony flowers so much. Not only are they are joyful and beautiful to look at, they have many alluring stories to tell!

1 thought on “Peony Meanings, Symbolism & Folklore + Peony Uses & Care”

  1. Why no mention of scent? One of the most special aspects of flowers is their scent. Ive never understood why anyone would grow a flower who’s scent has been lost due to breeding for color.

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