The Peony

Editor’s Note: The theme for the Garden Club of Denver’s Annual June Flower Show is “Language of Flowers.” To prepare for the show, each month eNews will feature a different flower. This month’s flower is Peony, presented by Margaret Garbe from the Photography Committee.

Peony or Paeonia sp is a flower that has been in existence since ancient times. In Greek mythology, its name comes from the physician to the gods, Paeon. Paeon is a mortal who is spared death by being transformed into a beautiful flower.

Plants are available in both herbaceous and tree forms. The herbaceous Paeonia lactiflora also known as the Chinese peony, is probably the best known and most widely grown. When first cultivated by the Chinese, peonies were bred to produce huge double blooms. When the plant was introduced to Japan, it was hybridized to produce more simple flowers and became known as the Japanese form. Paeonia suffruticosa, the tree peony, is a deciduous shrub usually between 3 and 4 feet in height, although some varieties can reach 6 feet.

The exquisite peony flower has long been a favorite of Asian artists and appears not only in painting but poetry and literature as well. It is a frequent motif in Chinese art, featured on screen paintings, clothing and woodblocks. In Japanese art it is used to adorn tapestries and porcelain. European artists, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh, also sought to capture the peony’s beauty on canvas.

In Western culture, the peony serves as the symbol for the 12th wedding anniversary and in the language of flowers, represents good fortune and a happy marriage. In Victorian times, it might also have represented bashfulness, since mischievous nymphs were said to hide in its magnificent petals.