Peony Flowers and Their Symbolic Meanings

Peonies are steeped in floral symbolism dating back to ancient civilizations and mythological tales. In the Victorian language of flowers, the peony carried the symbolic meaning of romance, compassion, good luck, prosperity, a happy marriage, and even bashfulness. In their native China, peonies are often referred to as the “queen of flowers” and are the official state flower of Indiana. Join me as I explore the lovely peony’s rich cultural heritage and symbolic meaning.

Peony Flowers in Bloom

Peony Flower Mythology

There are a few intriguing stories about the origin of the name of these flowers.

Some say that the name peony originated from Paeon (or Paean), the physician of the gods in Greek mythology. He was a student of the Greek god of medicine, Aesculapius. According to an old tale, when Paeon healed Pluto using a peony root, Aesculapius became too envious and tried to kill him. Zeus saved him from certain death by transforming him into a peony plant that many people loved and adored.

There’s another famous story about the origins of peonies. According to another myth, a beautiful nymph named Paeonia caught Apollo’s attention. But she became self-conscious and turned red as soon as she realized that Aphrodite had been watching them flirt with each other. Aphrodite got angry and transformed Paeonia into a red peony.

Generally, peony flowers symbolize positive meanings. Depending on the color or variety, they represent romance, compassion, good luck, prosperity, happy marriage, and even bashfulness.

Cultural Significance of Peony Flowers

National Peony Garden in China

Peonies are one of the most coveted flowers in many parts of the world. Carrying a rich history of uses in medicine and cultivation, these gorgeous blooms play vital roles in many cultures.

These highly valued flowers are native to China and are often referred to as the “queen of flowers ” (or “king of flowers” according to other reports). Before the plum tree, peonies were considered the country’s national flower.

They also had an essential role during the Sui and Tang dynasties, gracing the Imperial Palace. Because of this history, peonies also symbolize honor and wealth.

A city in China called Luoyang is also known as the City of the Peony since it houses the National Peony Garden and holds an annual festival of peonies. Founded in 1978, the Luoyang National Peony Garden showcases countless varieties of peonies. It also collects and breeds different peony cultivars.

Along with their importance in China, the peony flower is the official state flower of Indiana.

Wedding Anniversaries and Birth Flowers

This famed ornamental is a common sight at weddings, often found in wedding decorations or bridal bouquets. Peonies are also considered the official 12th wedding anniversary flower.

The peony is the birth month flower of November. Give this birth flower to someone special, choosing the right color to convey your appreciation.

Peony Flowers in Floriography

Originating in the Victorian era, different flowers and their arrangements conveyed messages that society deemed inappropriate to voice aloud. The peony, one of the most coveted and elegant flowers, holds various symbolic meanings in floriography.

  1. Romance and Love: Peonies, with their full, rounded blooms, are frequently associated with romantic love and are often used in wedding bouquets and arrangements because of this connotation.
  2. Prosperity and Good Fortune: The peony symbolizes good luck and prosperity in many cultures. In parts of Asia, especially China, it is highly esteemed and often linked to royalty and honor.
  3. Bashfulness or Shyness: Historically, peonies have also been tied to a sense of bashfulness. This is possibly because of legends and myths, like the one of Paeon.
  4. Compassion: Their lush, generous petals can be seen as a representation of compassion and a heart full of kindness.
  5. A Happy Life and Marriage: Given their associations with prosperity, love, and compassion, peonies are also symbolic of love and partnership.

Peony Flower Colors and Their Meanings

Color is intrinsic in floral symbolism, with different hues representing different meanings and sentiments.

Yellow Peony Flowers

A single blooming yellow peony flower
Yellow Peony

Like other yellow flowers, yellow peonies symbolize new beginnings and good fortune. If you want to give your new homeowner friend a bunch of flowers as a gift, yellow peonies are a good idea. Apart from their meaning, these blooms are a sure way to brighten up any dull spot in a home.

Yellow peonies come in various shades, including lemon yellow, butter yellow, and golden yellow, so you have plenty of choices.

Prairie Charm peony is an award-winning Itoh peony that produces semi-double flowers with pale or buttery yellow petals. Hints of red flares at the petal base add more drama to this beauty. This lightly fragrant peony variety has a long vase life and typically lasts over a week if cut in bud.

Another famed yellow peony variety is called Bartzella. These Itoh yellow peonies exhibit large semi-double flowers that grow up to 8 inches wide. At the center of each Bartzella bloom is a hint of scarlet color for a more attractive appeal.

One of my personal favorites, Bartzella peonies, are known for their fragrant, lemon-like scent. Like the Prairie Charm variety, this beautiful flower has a long vase life that usually lasts over a week.

Red Peony Flowers

A red peony flower in bloom

In the language of flowers, a red flower symbolizes passionate love and romance, such as the famed red rose. So, if you are thinking about which flower to get for your loved one or special someone, there are many red peonies that you could choose from.

I love the lush colors of Red Robin peonies, as an example. This peony variety displays stunning double-ruffled, vivid red petals. Not only are these peonies a show-stopper, but they also radiate a lovely scent that can be hard to resist.

Pink Peony Flowers

Pink peony flowers in a vase

Celebrating your 12th wedding anniversary or know a couple who are? Pink peonies are the kind of flower that perfectly fits the occasion, recognized as a symbol of a happy marriage in Feng Shui, honor, and fortune. Because of such recognition, it has been dubbed the official 12th wedding anniversary flower.

These delicate flowers are ideal for Mother’s Day or other family celebrations.

Some of my favorite pink peony varieties include Big Ben, Angel Cheeks, Myrtle Gentry, Gay Paree, Blaze, Do Tell, Bowl of Beauty, and Fairy’s Petticoat.

However, if you decide to pick out just one kind of peony, a particular variety is perhaps made for this special celebration—the Birthday peony. This cultivar produces large single flowers with pale pink petals and a vivid yellow center.

White Peony Flowers

A single white peony flower
White Peony

Although commonly known as a symbol of beauty, white peonies also represent shame. Because of this, they make a great gift if you want to sincerely apologize, ask for forgiveness, or simply say, “I messed up.”

White peonies are also a fantastic wedding flower for decor or a wedding bouquet. They look wonderful in a vase as part of any flower arrangement, whether alone or paired with other white flowers.

Wrapping Up

The peony flower, with its lush, full blooms and rich history, carries a wealth of symbolism that spans various cultures and periods. Revered for its beauty and medicinal properties, the peony is often associated with wealth, honor, and high social status, reflecting its status in Eastern culture as the “king of flowers.” In China, it is celebrated for symbolizing prosperity, good fortune, and a happy marriage, making it a common motif in art and festivals.

Further reading: Discover 43 stunning types of peony flowers to grow in your garden.

Contributing Editor | madison@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

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