Peonies are instantly recognizable for their captivating, huge blooms which have a fragile beauty. They’re popular throughout the world, and make one of the best cut flowers available.
The peony also features heavily in mythology, as well as given as gifts that carry some weighty symbolism. They’re also used for medicinal purposes.
What does ‘Peony’ Mean?
The word peony comes from ‘Paeon’ who was the student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. In Greek mythology, Paeon (or Paean) had healed both Ares and Hades and was an excellent healer in his own right.
Apollo’s mother and the goddess of fertility, Leto, told him to go to Mount Olympus to collect a magical root which would help relieve the pain of childbirth.
Asclepius became jealous of his protégé, angry that this wisdom was not given to him. He threatened to kill Paeon. In order to save him from Asclepius’s rage, Zeus turned Paeon into a peony. In this version, the peony represents healing, and compassion for others.
It’s also interesting to note that in ancient times, pregnant women would use peony seeds.
What does the Peony Flower Signify?
Peonies represent a myriad of things. They usually embody good luck, prosperity, and joy.
They’re also given at weddings, where they are believed to help ensure a happy marriage, and represent empathy and honor.
This beautiful flower also carries some superstitions. For a twelfth wedding anniversary, the peony is often given as a gift to invite good luck, joy, and honor.
Some believe that the good fortune of a peony – like any run of good luck – only lasts for a finite time.
When the flowers are in bloom, it’s said that you are enjoying a great run of luck, but once they fade, that luck has run out, and you’ll need to prepare for some harsh times or even disaster.
It’s also considered bad luck to have an odd number of peonies, or to give an odd number as a gift, which is also true of primroses.
What does a Pink Peony Symbolize?
While peonies come in many colors to suit every garden and taste, pink is one of the most admired colors, and the most popular cut flower.
Pink peonies symbolize love at first sight, beauty, and the spring of youth.
What does a White Peony Signify?
While most peonies signify the positive things in life, white peonies are often given as an apology. It tells them that you regret something, you feel ashamed, or you’re shy.
They’re also sometimes used to remember someone who has died.
What does a Peony Tattoo Mean?
Unsurprisingly, peonies are often used in tattoos, as they have the twofold benefit of being beautiful as well as symbolic.
The color of the peony itself is symbolic, as it is in any flower. Those colors not mentioned above share universal meanings with flowers of that color.
People often choose colorless peonies in their tattoos, as their architectural blooms stand out by themselves. Black or gray peony tattoos represent happiness, and the importance of making that choice every day.
They also embody good luck, and empathy towards others, though they’re sometimes used in honor of someone living, or as a remembrance of a loved one.
In Japan, peony tattoos are very common, inspired by Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s illustrations of Suikoden, which is a Chinese novel dating back to the 14th Century.
It’s a very masculine symbol, which links to living in the moment, free from consequence. It embodies a care-free attitude which is daring, where fear is not a factor.
They also embody enlightenment, prosperity, and protection from bad luck and malicious spirits which would otherwise mean you harm.
A peony tattoo is also a reminder not to worry, as you cannot predict the things that are ahead of you. Existence is only a relatively short thing, like the flowering period of the peony itself.
What is the Cultural Significance behind Peony Flowers?
There is another Greek myth that tells of the creation of the peony flower. Apollo’s eye was caught by a shy, beautiful nymph called Paeonia. He started flirting, and it was when Paeonia blushed, embarrassed, that Aphrodite saw them.
Aphrodite wasn’t exactly pleased. In fact, she was jealous. To tell him exactly how she felt, she turned poor Paeonia into a blushing peony.
Because of this story, the peony can also signify shame, embarrassment, or an apology.
Does this story sound vaguely familiar? There’s a similar Roman myth about daisies.
What do Peonies Symbolize in Chinese Culture?
In their native China, peonies are widely admired for their beauty.
The peony is known as the “king of flowers”, one of the “Four Gentlemen” which represent those plants with a rich history in China.
Peonies are also a symbol of hope, which are thought to bring good luck and prosperity to those who receive them.
When Should You Give Someone a Peony?
While peonies have a myriad of meanings, they’re often given at a time when you want to tell someone how well they’ve done.
This could be in achieving an important milestone in life, like a graduation, or landing a prosperous career, finding the person they want to spend the rest of their life with, or for a wedding anniversary.
More often than not, peonies embody love and affection, making them a great gift no matter the occasion.