Peony Meaning

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The Peony meaning derives from its link to the sun and this makes it a perfect gift as a Leo birth flower.

China is where the flower originates from and was first cultivated. The peony flower features in many poem, folklore and songs of ancient China.

Carl Linnaeus named a species of peony the Paeonia officinalis, it was a species that grew wild in the regions of Portugal, south of France, Switzerland, north of Italy, Hungary, Romania and Albania. As a reference to it use as a medicine, Paeonia officinalis means “of the apothecary’s shop.”

In this blog we’ll get into why the peony falls under the dominion of the sun.

We’ll explore the history, myths and uses across different parts of the world that surround this majestic flower.

What does a peony symbolise?

A peony flower can symbolise various things namely beauty, happy marriage and healing. Its possible powers are prosperity, protection and purification. The flower falls under the dominion of the Sun.

Leo Birth Flower

The ruling planet of the Leo Zodiac is the sun and the Peony flower is one of it birth flower. Alchemy and astrology combined together classifies the peony flower under the dominion of the sun.

Since the peony originates from China, we might be inclined to find the link of the peony and the sun in Chinese folklore or mythology.

However, the metaphor of the sun is found in Greek mythology more precisely through the sun god Apollo. Apollo Paean translates to Apollo the Healer.

Peony meaning and the Greek god Apollo

The word Paean by itself translates to a song of delivery from battle or pestilence or famine.

The story goes that when Apollo also called the Far-Darter rained pestilence upon the Greeks was finally appeased.

According to Homer, people made banquets and sang all day long to worship the god with music. The sons of the Achaians sang the beautiful Paean to Apollo which made his heart happy.

The paeans were also perhaps the first charms to be chanted over wounds however the definition expanded to include all kinds of chants.

Peony flower

Paean was He-of-Paeonia and Paeonia took its name from Peony flower. Nicolas Culppeper classifies it as a herb under the dominion of the sun which echoes its association to the Greek sun god.

The plant came to Greece from China and Japan through Persia. The Greek Peony was a single red one and the common double variety.

The Peony was prescribed as a remedy against any afflictions caused by the moon such as nightmares, melancholy. Additionally it was used to prevent insanity and convulsions.

Peony Meaning in ancient Chinese culture

In ancient China the peony plant was called “King of Flowers.” The tree peony bloomed in spring in the southern part of China. While in the northern part of China it blooms in summer.

Initially the flower was introduced to gardens purely for an ornamental purpose. It will only be later that its medicinal properties would be discovered. The peony bloom meaning was linked to nobility, rank, wealth, honor and beautiful women.

The first description of peony in the garden was described by Li Po who was a famous poet during the Tang Dynasty. The peony were first planted in imperial garden then near houses and it soon became very popular across Changan (the capital city of the Tang Dynasty).

Luoyang Peony Festival Folklore

A local festival that is still celebrated today in China is called the Luoyang Peony Festival. It happens in the Henan Province during the second half of April.

A legend retells the story of the Tang empress Wu Zetian. She had two lovers and one night during winter all three of them took a walk in the garden.

The spring goddess was summoned to make the flower blossom during the night and all the flower didn’t dare to disobey the empress. However, the next morning the empress found 100 blooming flowers in the garden expect one peony that defied the empress.

In order to punish the peony the empress ordered that all the peonies be transplanted to Luoyang. And from that day Luoyang became their new home.

History and Evolution of Peony flower in China

A scholar named Ouyand Xiu wrote the first treatise on the peony tree around the 11th century. He detailed around 90 varieties of the peony species.

Around the 20th century the cultivation of peony incurred a setback. In 1933, a flood from the Yellow River washed away a high number of peonies.

The increasing population in China also led farmers to plant other crops rather than still cultivating peonies.

During the lead of Mao Zedong from 1966 to 1967 it was rumoured that peonies were banned from being cultivated, however, they were still cultivated for medicinal purposes.

After 1980, however, the interest in the cultivation of peonies resumed.

Peony flower 1

Peony flower in ancient Roman & Greek cultures

Both the 14th century Greek botanist Theophrastus and 1st century Roman author Pliny the Elder thought that the peony flower was dangerous and it shouldn’t be touched.

This attitude rose questions in some whether the Peony was actually cultivated back then in Europe.

If one wished to obtain a peony they had to tie a string around the neck of dog then prod the dog to move until it uproots the flower. Any attempt to obtain a peony during the day would be a risk to a loss of sight.

Paeon the physician of the gods and peony meaning

The physician of the gods was Paeon, he was under the apprentice of the god of medicine Aesculapius. The latter was also the son Apollo and the goddess Coronis.

Paeon was the first apprentice of Aesculapius and Leto the mother of Apollo gave him a peony. He used the peony to heal a wound that the god Hades got from Hercules. He also healed the god Ares and as a token of gratitude, Ares turned him into a Peony.

In another version of this myth, Paeon heals Hades and this causes Aesculapius to become jealous. He secretly plotted and eventually caused the death of Paeon.

Hades forever grateful to Paeon transformed his body into the flower which till date retains his name.

The Nymph Paeonia

The beautiful nymph Paeonia was flirting with the god Apollo who was not very discreet about it.

When Paeonia turned her head she saw the goddess Venus staring at her in a very severe manner.

Paeonia blushed so red that the colour never left her face. And this blush angered Venus so much that she turned Paeonia into a red Peony.

Peony flower 3

Beliefs and Uses of Peony

Various beliefs and Uses surround the Peony also have an influence on the peony meaning.

A member of the Dutch East India Company might have been the first European to have a glimpse at the peonies in Canton and Peking in China around 1656.

While Sir Joseph Banks a British naturalist might have been the first person to obtain the first specimen from China. He planted it in the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew in Great Britain.

Peony meaning and uses in ancient Europe

  • The peony flower was considered as a way to chase evil away. It was also an antidote to sickness that was caused by demonic possession. More specifically the powdered root of the peony was prescribed for this.

  • In Sussex, a necklace made out of the roots of the peony was worn by children to either aid with convulsions or to help teething.

  • In parts of France a necklace with peony seeds was used to free children from fits.

  • Several beliefs agree that wearing a necklace of peony called “Anodyne Necklaces” would help greatly in protection against various supernatural occurring, ranging from nightmares to succubi including insanity.

  • The Anglo-Saxons believed that if you counted the flowers on the peony plant and the end result was an odd number on the plant. Then it was a sign there will be a death in the house before the year was over.

  • There is a record in Hungary where gypsies took the leaves of Peonies in wine along with Rose Bay leaves and Ergot in order to induce abortions.

  • Peony roots were prescribed for sciatica and jaundice.

  • Around the 18th century in France, the Empress Josephine Bonaparte grew peonies in her garden at Malmaison. And by 1810, Malmaison acquired a peony from the region of Siberia. The following year the garden featured proudly both single and double flowers.
Peony flower meaning

If you enjoyed the Peony flower meaning then make sure you don’t miss out on other flowers and plants that fall under the Leo zodiac.

FAQs Peony Flower Meaning


Cumo, C. (Ed.). (2013). Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants [3 volumes]: From Acacia to Zinnia. ABC-CLIO.

Dietz, S. T. (2022). The complete language of flowers the complete language of flowers: A definitive and illustrated history – pocket edition. Wellfleet Press.

Junius, M. M. (1986). Practical handbook of plant alchemy: How to prepare medicinal essences, tinctures and elixirs. Inner Traditions Bear and Company.

Thiselton Dyer, T. F. (1994). Folklore of Plants. Llanerch Press.

Watts, D., & Watts, D. C. (2007). Dictionary of Plant Lore. Academic Press.

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