There is perhaps no other flower with more of a cult following than the peony. This graceful, fragrant bloom with its devastatingly short flowering season often drives peony lovers everywhere (including us!) into a frenzy.
When peony season comes around at the end of spring, you can shop the most beautiful pink or white peonies at Floraly.
With centuries of history and symbolism, there’s so much more to the peony than its beauty. Read on to learn all about the peony flower’s meaning and lots of other fascinating insights.
Peony Flower Meaning & Symbolism
The peony flower symbolises happiness, romance, bashfulness, happy marriage, honour, prosperity, good fortune and wealth.
It's these meanings, along with the peony's natural beauty, that makes the bloom an extremely popular choice in wedding bouquets. They also make a wonderful gift for other important occasions, such as graduations, engagements and even starting new jobs.
Peonies are also the traditional flower given on a 12th wedding anniversary.
Peony Flower Meaning by Colour
The main colours of peonies are pink, white, red and yellow. As with most flowers, the meaning of the peony flower changes depending on the colour. It’s worth being mindful of which colour peony you send someone, especially if you don’t want them to get the wrong message!
White peony symbolism
White peonies symbolise shame, shyness and apology. If you’ve done something wrong and wish to make amends, a bunch of white peonies can help you convey this message.
In general, white flowers are symbols of purity and innocence, making them popular at both weddings and funerals.
Red peony symbolism
As with other red flowers, red peonies represent passion and love. This makes red peonies a wonderful alternative to red roses when making a romantic gesture to your significant other!
In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolises luck, happiness, joy, vitality and beauty, and is associated with royalty. Red peonies are therefore a wonderful flower gift for anyone you want to wish happiness or good fortune to.
Yellow peony symbolism
The yellow peony is symbolic of new beginnings and fresh starts. They’re the perfect housewarming bloom, but also make a nice gift when someone starts a new job or experiences a break-up.
Generally speaking, yellow flowers symbolise happiness, optimism and excitement.
You might give someone a different shade of yellow peony depending on the occasion or the message; perhaps a really vibrant yellow peony bouquet to convey excitement, or paler yellow peonies to celebrate a new beginning.
Pink peony symbolism
By far the most common colour of peony is pink, ranging from subdued shades of pale pink to bold, vibrant shades of coral pink and hot pink.
Similarly to many other pink flowers, pink peonies symbolise both romantic and non-romantic love, as well as friendship and happiness.
Pink peonies are, of course, the ultimate bloom for weddings and bridal bouquets. They make a wonderful addition to a Mother’s Day bouquet (though in Australia, any peonies found in May will have been imported), and are also perfect for birthdays and just about any celebratory occasion.
Peony Flower History & Insights
Peonies are native to parts of Europe, North America and Asia, and are the only member of the family Paeoniaceae. They date back to at least 1000BC in China.
Peonies have a notoriously short flowering season, blooming for just a few short weeks in spring and summer. In Australia, the peak season is between late October (if we’re lucky) and early December, which is great for spring weddings. In the northern hemisphere, they’re available from late May into June.
While it’s certainly prized for its beauty and alluring fragrance, the peony flower was historically grown for use in traditional medicine, in countries like China, Japan and Korea. The roots of the plant were used to treat convulsions, swelling, pain, clotting and many other conditions.
Fast forward to today, and The Netherlands is the greatest producer of peonies for the cut-flower market. Interestingly, Alaska has emerged as another strong producer of peonies, thanks to the country’s extended sunlight hours in mid to late summer. This helps the flowers bloom longer and grow larger, even after the season has ended elsewhere.
Peonies in Chinese Culture
Peonies have been an important symbol in Chinese culture for hundreds of years. The flower was prized during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. It was once kept exclusively by the Emperor and the royal family and grown in the imperial palace gardens.
The Chinese name for the peony is 花王 (huawang), which translates to “king (or queen) of the flowers”. Other names are 牡丹 (mǔdān), meaning “the most beautiful”, and also 富貴花 (fùguìhuā), meaning “flower of riches and honour”.
Peonies are used in feng shui as cures or calls for love and romance. Placing a bunch of pink peonies in the living room, for example, may invite a new romantic partner into your life, particularly after a breakup.
The city of Luoyang is known as the “City of Peonies”, and is famous for being the home of the National Peony Garden. Each year in April, the Luoyang Peony Festival draws in both Chinese tourists and peony enthusiasts alike.
The Peoples Republic of China does not have an official national floral emblem. But during a recent vote on what people thought the national flower should be, the peony won by an overwhelming majority.
Origin of the Name “Peony”
There are two Greek legends that tell the story of peonies, which may explain how the flowers got their name.
The first, and most famous, is the story of Paeon, the physician of the Greek gods. Paeon was a student of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Aesculapius tried to kill Paeon out of jealousy when his student was able to heal Pluto using peony root. Zeus supposedly saved Paeon’s life by turning him into a peony plant.
The second story says that when the nymph Paeonia caught Apollo’s eye, Aphrodite became angry and turned Paeonia into a red peony.
Popular Peony Varieties
While there are only about 40 different species of peony flower, there are over 6,000 varieties, with more being cultivated all the time.
Here are 5 of the most popular peonies:
1. Sarah Bernhardt
An iconic double peony with ruffled, pale pink petals and a divine fragrance. The Sarah Bernhardt peony is a variety of Paeonia lactiflora, also known as the Chinese peony.
2. Coral Charm
Another variety of Paeonia lactiflora, the Coral Charm semi-double peony is prized for its remarkable petals, which magically change colour. In bud, the petals are a deep, coral pink. As they unfurl, the petals fade to shades of peach, yellow and cream.
Also known as the intersectional peony or the Itoh peony, Paeonia bartzella is a hybrid created by crossing tree peonies with herbaceous peonies. They have huge flower heads with beautiful yellow petals and scarlet centres, and produce a fresh citrusy scent.
4. Duchesse De Nemours
Yet another variety of Paeonia lactiflora, the Duchesse De Nemours peony produces double, ruffled white and cream-coloured petals. They have a strong, sweet fragrance similar to garden roses.
5. Bowl of Beauty
This fragrant, anemone-shaped peony features deep pink petals with contrasting, cream or yellow petals at its heart. It’s another cultivar of the Chinese peony.
How to Care for Your Peonies
In addition to having a short flowering season, peonies are known to have a relatively short vase life, usually only up to 5 days.
To keep your beautiful peonies looking their best and to help them last as long as possible, here are a few peony care tips:
Trim the stems
When you receive your peony bouquet, be sure to trim the stems by a few centimetres. Use a pair of clean, sharp secateurs of scissors to ensure a clean cut. Snipping the stems at an angle will increase the surface area for water uptake, which will help keep your peonies hydrated.
Strip away low-hanging leaves
Remove any leaves and foliage on the stems that may sit below the water line in your vase. Leaves that come into contact with water will rot faster and release bacteria, which will shorten the vase life of your peonies.
Place them in a clean vase with water & flower food
Make sure your vase is sparkling clean before filling it with water. Any dust or other nasties lingering in the vase can be absorbed by your peonies, and may cause them to wilt faster.
Fill your vase at least one third of the way full with clean, lukewarm water.
You should receive a sachet of flower food along with your peonies, no matter where you bought them. At Floraly, we include a free sachet of flower food with all our flowers.
Mix some of that flower food into the vase water, and stir until it dissolves. This will provide important nutrients for your peonies, which will help keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible!
If you don’t have any flower food, a spoonful of granulated sugar will do the trick in a pinch. However, sugar encourages the growth of bacteria, so keep an eye on the quality of your water. If the vase water becomes cloudy, it’s usually a sign of bacteria.
Keep up with the maintenance
Don’t just set and forget your peonies. Every other day, you should re-trim the stems, clean out the vase and replace the water and flower food with a fresh solution. Peonies are thirsty blooms, so be sure to keep an eye on that water level.
Additionally, take care not to place your peonies too close to a bowl of fresh fruit. Fruits release chemicals as they ripen, which will also cause your peonies to ripen—and by ripen, we mean wilt!
It's also worth noting that peonies are toxic to cats, dogs and horses.
Don’t hesitate to refrigerate
Fridges are a florist’s best friend in the high heat of summer. To help your peonies survive just that much longer at home, you can always try placing them in your fridge overnight.
How to Get Peonies to Open Faster
At Floraly, we’re all about the journey from bud to bloom. This means we send our flowers, including our peonies, to you while they’re still in bud so that they bloom at home and last longer. Sending flowers while still in bud also helps protect them on their journey to your doorstep.
In bud, peonies look like little marshmallow golf balls. They usually open up within 24–48 hours of you bringing them home and placing them in a vase. But if you can’t wait that long, there’s a simple trick you can try to speed things up.
Place your peonies in warm (but not hot) water, and put the vase in a sunny spot. Check on them regularly, and as they start to open you can move them into your preferred spot. Don’t leave them too long in the sun or in the warmth, as they will wilt quickly.
You can also try gently massaging the peonies at the base of the flower head. This will stimulate the petals and prompt them to begin opening.
What Flower Can Replace a Peony?
The answer is: none. No flowers can truly replace peonies.
But luckily, there are so many flowers out there in the world that there are a few great alternatives to peonies.
Depending on the time of year, some of our favourite peony alternates include garden roses, double tulips, dahlias and ranunculus.
To discover more about these blooms and other fantastic alternatives to peonies, check out our blog post.
As soon as peonies become available in Australia, you’ll find them here at Floraly.