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7 Surprising Fun Facts About Peonies

7 Surprising Fun Facts About Peonies

7 Surprising Fun Facts About Peonies

Peonies (Paeonia officinalis) are colorful flowers native to the temperate climates of Eurasia, northwest Africa, and western North America. They are not just exquisite and showy flowers with a sweet scent; they also harbor a wealth of fascinating secrets and surprising facts. From their ancient origins to their medicinal uses and cultural significance, these gorgeous blooms continue to captivate enthusiasts worldwide.

1. Peonies have been around since 1900 BC

Peonies boast an impressive history dating back thousands of years. Fossil records suggest that these stunning flowers have graced the Earth since 1900 BC, making them one of the oldest known flowering plants.

Peonies have also been documented in ancient texts worldwide, with China playing a central role in their cultivation and reverence. The "Shennong Bencao Jing" (The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica Classic), dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, praised peonies for their medicinal properties and therapeutic benefits. Meanwhile, in ancient Greece and Rome, peonies were esteemed for their beauty and were mentioned in the works of scholars such as Theophrastus (circa 287 BC) and Dioscorides (circa 40 AD).

2. Peonies have healing properties

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, both herbaceous peonies and tree peonies have been valued for their medicinal properties for centuries. In the "Bencao Gangmu" by Li Shizhen, a case is documented involving a woman suffering from severe abdominal pain and irregular menstruation. Traditional Chinese medicine diagnosed her condition as "blood stasis." Treatment with herbal remedies, including peony root and peach kernel, effectively alleviated her symptoms, highlighting the efficacy of these herbs in promoting blood circulation and restoring health. Traditional Chinese medicine harnesses various parts of the peony plant to treat ailments such as inflammation, pain, and menstrual irregularities.

In modern times, peonies continue to be valued for their healing properties, particularly in the realm of holistic and alternative medicine. Peony extracts and preparations are utilized for their anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant properties, relieving conditions such as arthritis, muscle pain, and skin inflammation. Moreover, peonies are increasingly incorporated into skincare products for their soothing and rejuvenating effects on the skin, helping to alleviate redness, irritation, and signs of aging.

3. There is a city dedicated to peonies in China

In Luoyang, China, peonies are more than just a flower—they're a cultural icon. Known as the "City of Peonies," Luoyang boasts a rich heritage of peony cultivation that dates back over a thousand years. Each spring, the city bursts into vibrant color as peony festivals attract visitors from around the world to admire the spectacular blooms

4. Superstition

Peonies have accumulated a rich tapestry of superstitions and beliefs across different cultures, adding to their mystique and allure. In some regions, it's considered unlucky to bring peonies indoors before they bloom fully, as it's believed to bring misfortune or delay marriage. This superstition likely stems from the association of peonies with romance and prosperity, as they're often used in weddings and celebrations.

Similarly, other cultures view peonies as symbols of good fortune and happiness, especially concerning love and relationships. In traditional Chinese culture, peonies are believed to bring wealth, honor, and a happy marriage, making them popular motifs in art and decor. Additionally, there's a belief that planting peonies near the home can ward off evil spirits and bring blessings to the household.

5. Peonies can outlive people

Peonies are not just fleeting beauties; they're remarkably long-lived plants. With proper care, peony bushes can thrive for decades, and some have been known to survive for over a century.

One remarkable example of how peonies can outlive people is the famous "1000-year-old Peony Tree" in China. This tree is believed to be over a thousand years old and is considered a living treasure. Despite its age, the tree continues to bloom with vibrant peony flowers every spring, captivating visitors with its enduring beauty and resilience. Generations of people have come to admire this ancient tree, marveling at its ability to thrive for centuries and outlive countless generations of admirers.

6. There are 33 recognized species of peonies

Peonies have 33 recognized species and 15 subspecies. They can be broadly categorized into three types: herbaceous peonies, tree peonies, and Itoh peonies, which are hybrids of the first two. The 33 recognized species of peonies offer a diverse range of options for gardeners and flower enthusiasts, providing spectacular displays of color and form.

7. The pH level of your soil can affect your peony’s color

The color of peony blooms can be influenced by the pH level of the soil in which they're grown. Acidic soil produces deeper pink or red flowers, while alkaline soil may produce softer pink or white blooms. By adjusting the soil's pH, you can determine the color of their peonies, adding an element of customization to your garden.

Peonies: Versatile beauty

Peonies, with their rich history, diverse symbolism, and surprising characteristics, continue to enchant and inspire people around the world. From ancient civilizations to modern-day gardeners, the allure of peonies transcends time and culture. As we uncover the intriguing facts and stories behind these beloved flowers, we gain a deeper appreciation for their enduring beauty and timeless appeal.

Frequently asked questions about peony plants

How did peonies get their name?

The name "peony" has its origins in Greek mythology. According to legend, Peon was a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Peon became so skilled in the art of healing that he attracted the jealousy of his teacher. To protect Peon from the wrath of Asclepius, Zeus transformed him into a beautiful flower, which we now know as the peony.

The name "peony" is believed to have been derived from the ancient Greek word "paeon," which was the name of both the physician and the flower. Over time, the name evolved into "peon" in Latin and eventually "peony" in English.

What do peonies attract?

Peonies are known to attract various pollinators, including bees and butterflies. These pollinators are drawn to the abundant nectar and pollen produced by peony flowers, which they use as a food source while inadvertently aiding in the pollination process. Ants also love peonies.

However, deer and rabbits generally dislike peonies. These animals tend to avoid peonies due to their bitter taste and tough foliage, making peonies a good choice for gardens in areas where deer and rabbits are common pests. Additionally, the strong, fragrant smell of peony blossoms may act as a deterrent to some animals, further reducing the likelihood of damage to the plants.

Where do peonies grow best?

Peonies thrive in regions with temperate climates, where they can experience distinct seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Ideal growing conditions for peonies include:

  • Sunlight: Peonies prefer full sun, meaning they should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Make sure to plant your peony roots in a sunny spot in your garden. However, they can tolerate partial shade, especially in hotter climates.
  • Well-drained soil: Peonies prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They do not like to sit in waterlogged soil, as this can lead to root rot. Sandy loam or loamy soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH is ideal.
  • Air circulation: Good air circulation helps prevent fungal diseases, so avoid planting peonies in crowded or cramped spaces. Planting them with some distance between each plant can promote better airflow.
  • Cold winters: Many peony varieties require a period of winter dormancy to bloom successfully in the spring. They need several chill hours (hours below 40°F or 4°C) to set flower buds.
  • Protection from strong winds: While peonies appreciate good air circulation, they can be damaged by strong winds, especially when in bloom. Planting them in a location shielded from strong winds can help prevent damage to their stems and flowers.

What month is best to plant peonies?

The best time to plant peonies is in the fall, typically from late September to early November, depending on your local climate. Some gardeners plant peonies just before the ground freezes in the winter. Planting peonies in the fall allows them to establish their root systems before the onset of winter dormancy. This period of dormancy is crucial for peonies, as it helps them prepare for robust growth and blooming in the following spring.

Planting peonies in the fall also gives them ample time to acclimate to their new environment and develop strong roots before the onset of hot weather in the summer. Additionally, planting in the fall allows gardeners to take advantage of cooler temperatures and more consistent moisture levels, which can help reduce transplant shock and encourage successful establishment.

Do peonies grow back every year?

Yes, peonies are perennials, meaning they can grow back year after year. Once planted, a peony bush can live for decades and will reliably return each spring to produce its beautiful blooms. In fact, peonies often become more robust and prolific over time, with more flowers and stronger stems as they mature.

However, it's important to note that peonies may take a few years to become fully established and reach their peak performance. Peonies may produce fewer blooms in the first year or two after planting as they focus on developing their root systems. With proper care and maintenance, including adequate watering, fertilizing, and occasional division to prevent overcrowding, peonies can thrive and continue to bloom for many years.

Meet Ben, our Flower Bulb Specialist
Meet Ben, our Flower Bulb Specialist

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