Peony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae.
There are between 25 and 40 species; but the current consensus is 33 known species.
They are native to Asia, Europe and Western North America.
There are two distinct groups of peonies: the herbaceous and the tree, or moutan, peonies.
The herbaceous peonies are perennials that grow to a height from 0.25 to 1 meter (0.8 to 3.3 ft) and have large, glossy, much-divided leaves borne on annual stems produced by fleshy rootstocks.
The tree peonies have developed from the wild Chinese species P. suffruticosa. They are shrubby, with permanent woody stems.
The tree peonies plants sometimes attain a height from 0.25 to 3.5 meters (0.8 to 11.5 ft); they begin flowering in late spring.
The blossoms vary in color from white to lilac, violet, and red.
Peonies are among the most popular garden plants in temperate regions.
Herbaceous peonies are also sold as cut flowers on a large scale, although generally only available in late spring and early summer.
The main center of peony breeding in Europe has been in the United Kingdom, and particularly France.
The Netherlands is the largest peony cut flower producing country with about 50 million stems each year, with “Sarah Bernhardt” dominating the sales with over 20 million stems.
An emerging source of peonies in mid to late summer is the Alaskan market.
Flowers close at night or when the sky is overcast.
Peonies make wonderful cut flowers, lasting more than a week in a vase.
The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius and the Greek god of medicine and healing. In Greek Mythology, when Asclepius became jealous of his pupil, Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.
Ancient Chinese texts mention the peony was used for flavoring food. Confucius (551–479 BC) is quoted to have said: “I eat nothing without its sauce. I enjoy it very much, because of its flavor.”
Marco Polo described peony blossoms as “roses as big as cabbages.”
In Serbia, it is said in folklore that the red peonies blooming at the fields of Kosovo represent the blood of Serbian warriors who died when fighting in the Battle of Kosovo in June 1389.
The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom. – Henry Mitchell, American writer (1923-93).
The peony along with the plum blossom are considered traditional floral emblems of China.
The Peony is mainly known for representing ideas and values like:
• Honor, especially for people who are bringing honor to their entire family through success
• Wealth and riches
• Romance and romantic love, with a particular focus on love between two strangers
• Beauty in all forms
Peony plants require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves; they do not respond well to transplanting.
Many gardeners wonder why so many ants crawl on the peony buds. Don’t worry! They are just eating the peony’s nectar in exchange for attacking bud-eating pests. They are attracted to the sugary droplets on the outside of flower buds or to the honeydew produced by scale insects. Never spray the ants; they’re helping you by keeping your peonies safe!