Peony the Elegant Pink Flower of Culture and Tradition

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The peony flower is common today, favored in Oriental nations such as China and Japan. Introduced to Europe by the Romans during their expansion 1200 years ago, peonies spread and became much loved around the world.

Favorite Flower, the Peony

So common that that they are almost dismissed, the peony flower is a favorite of China and Japan and many westerners too.

Peony in Bloom

They were introduced to southern Europe some 1200 years ago by legions of Romans as they first came to the region. If you believe that flowers imply meaning, then the peony is of a happy marriage, a happy life and mad love.

pink peony flower

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Flowers native to Asia, Europe and now North America, these fragrant flowers can be found in several colors ranging from pink, red, white and yellow and several different petal arrangements. Other colors include shades of coral, peach and even lavender.

Often making their first appearance in early April, they are some of the fastest growing, earliest harbingers of spring with their distinctive red stalks peeking up through the still barren ground. They are a welcome sight.

Signs of Spring, Peony Sprouts in the Grass

peony shoots and buds, first signs of springtime

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Long used in the Far East for medicinal and ornamental purposes for over 2000 years, these flowers are a cultural staple in countries such as China and Japan. The Chinese city of Luoyang is a cultivation hub for peonies, and holds an annual celebration and exhibitions featuring these flowers. The peony is also featured in carvings and reliefs in caverns of the region.

Two varieties of peonies in Japan are called “The King of Flowers” and “The Prime Ministers of Flowers” such is their status of importance. A Japanese adaption of old Chinese medicine cites the root of the garden plant peony being used as a medicinal treatment for convulsions.

oriental ink print of peony flowers

Image via Wikipedia

The very name peony is derived from the Greek “Paeon” a student of the Greek god of medicine and healing Asclepius.

The Grecian myth goes that Paeon (also called “Paean”) became jealous and Zeus, to protect Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius, turned him into the peony flower.

Ahh… those Greek gods! They seem to favor protecting their children by turning them into flowers! Such was the similar fate of Narcissus so obsessed by his own reflection in the pool that he fell in and drown and was turned into daffodils at the spot of his demise.

Peony with Bee

peony flower with small bee

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Peonies of all varieties are considered to be very low maintenance and once established can survive for many decades or longer. Unlike many foliated plants, peonies are deer resistant. Deer do not like the flavor and avoid eating them.

Their roots typically extend downwards up to two feet deep. Watering heavily can invite the roots to grow even deeper, which should not be encouraged lest the routine of deep-watering ceases. To then stop deep watering will cause the plant to starve for water as most of their roots will have extended far deeper than necessary for natural conditions of rain shed and runoff penetration. Light to medium watering several times per week until fully established is fine although I find it difficult to envision a condition of over-watering, at least in the short-term. After they have become established they are quite hardy and naturally drought resistant as well as tolerant to slight over-watering.

When we transplanted peonies we used to every other day dump an entire 5-gallon bucket of water onto the mounded base of our starter colonies and let it soak deep and they did just fine with this. Transplanting, separating and thinning of peony colonies is best performed in the late fall before they go dormant for the winter. This may be mild enough interference to avoid the failure to bloom the following year; peonies don’t enjoy having their roots messed with and will often withhold flowering for a year or two after such meddling.

Ants on Peony Buds

ants on peony flower bud, not yet opened. Peonies exude nectar which attracts the ants

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Peonies excrete nectar on their buds that ants are attracted to. It is not uncommon to find many ants busying themselves drinking the nectar or collecting it.

Many years ago my mother had several large peony bushes in the yard both in front of and behind our home in New York. There came a time when the driveway needed to be graded and improved, and some of the peony roots were relocated but many were surreptitiously uprooted along with cement and large boulders, and consigned by front-loader to a deep trench behind my father’s barn.

Buried under probably twenty feet of debris, the following spring the peonies worked their way up through the broken layers of stone and rock and to this day still grow on top of this old trench silo. Before the caves and cavities of this hodgepodge settled and filled-in, you could stick your head under some overhanging slabs and views the tendrils of peonies that snaked their way skyward, around sidewalk-sized slabs, searching for the sun. Peonies dislike transplanting and it can take several years before they will bloom well, but once they have acclimated to the transplantation they will continue to bloom, often for many decades to come.

Close-Up of Ants on Peony Bud

extreme close-up of ants on peony flower bud

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Nobody likes ants. I am talking about picnics and such, but after the long hard winter even this is attractive. -Ir is welcomed. I am eager for spring peonies and even the insects that visit them. The scent of a peony blossom is of a rosy lemony odor, sweet like warm honey. It is the kind of flower that you simply must bury your nose into and enjoy the rich lusciousness of this fragrant flower.

Favorite in Prints, Art and Tattoos

peony pattern blouse and peony flower held by a woman

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You will often find the peony in print and design, etched glass windows and lampshades and upon fabric used for women’s clothing. The subject material of the peony is often accompanied with koi fish, another oriental favorite. The peony is a favorite subject for tattoos as well.

Sculptures and reliefs in Chinese caves and grottoes often feature the peony flower along with images of the Buddha and his followers.

Peony Printed Chinese Poster: Red, White and Lavender Blooms

Chinese poster featuring the peony flower

Image via Wikipedia

Peony in the Sun

sunshine shining through a cloister of pink peony flowers against a clear blue sky

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An amazing flower, early riser in spring, prodigious in bloom and its flowers will stay around until late summer. Their leafy foliage will continue to beautify your property even after the flowers have gone away for the season.

1 comment

Sy Kravitz
Posted on Sep 23, 2009