Peony Meaning

Learn about the meaning of peonies in the language of flowers.
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A room in the 2013 Atlanta Decorators Show House, a showcase of more than 30 spaces transformed by designers from around the Southeast.

Photo by: Ben Rollins

Ben Rollins

By: Julie A Martens
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Dig into peony meaning, and you’ll discover a host of intriguing tales about this long-lived perennial. Just like peony plants thrive for generations, peony symbolism weaves a path through history that stretches all the way back to Greek mythology and ancient China. Learn about peonies meaning from their earliest origins to more modern peony symbolism.

Common garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are often called Chinese peonies, referring to their origins in this part of Asia. The Chinese have held peonies in high esteem for centuries, and peony symbolism is a strong thread in the fabric of Chinese culture. Peony meaning in China embraces the idea of good fortune and wealth.

Peonies meaning also encompasses concepts like honor and high value. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD), peony flowers earned places of distinction in the Imperial Palace and were actually incorporated into the royal thrones, underscoring the peony meaning of nobility. Peony meaning also included peace and optimism.

As peony flowers open, ants crawl on the unopened buds. This apparent partnership between insect and blossom led to the peony symbolism of industriousness, referring to the ants’ apparent hard work in helping the buds to open. In a nod to the ants’ labor, a fully open peony flower represents the rewards of labor.

Botanically, peony falls into the genus Paeonia, a word which has Greek roots. In Greek mythology, Paeon was a student of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepias. Paeon was a good student, and his understanding of medicine grew to surpass that of his teacher. Asclepias became envious of his student and in a jealous rage decided to kill Paeon. Zeus saved Paeon’s life by turning him into a flower, the peony. Out of this mythological story, a peony meaning of protection emerged.

Peony symbolism figures strongly in courtship and marriage. In fact, peonies are a traditional flower to include in a bridal bouquet because they confer the idea of good fortune and prosperity. In weddings, another meaning of peony is that of a happy marriage that overflows with peace.

During the Victorian era, the language of flowers came into pre-eminence, and peony meaning was expanded to embody a love that had been won. Where roses were used for wooing and courtship, peonies were the flower a man would give to his beloved when he knew he had won her love.

The Victorian culture also considered peony meaning to include female purity and chastity. This meaning of peony came about because of what appeared to be an intimate relationship between ants and the opening blossoms. Other folklore held that bashful nymphs hid between the many petals on a peony bloom, giving rise to the peony meaning of bashfulness.

The combined peony meanings of purity and bashfulness eventually combined, which catapulted the pretty flower into Victorian wedding bouquets. The tradition of a bride carrying peonies was especially strong in Victorian England. In modern times, peony symbolism continues to fit into wedding bouquets with ease. Peony meaning in this age includes the previous concepts and also represents a loving lifetime commitment.

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