Peony Flower With a recorded history that dates back thousands of years, it’s not surprising that even the mythology surrounding the origin of the peony has multiple versions. One legend has it that the peony is named after Paeon, a physician to the gods, who received the flower on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. And another tells the story of that same physician who was “saved” from the fate of dying as other mortals by being turned into the flower we know today as the peony.
The traditional floral symbol of China, the state flower of Indiana, and the 12th wedding anniversary flower, peonies are known as the flower of riches and honor. With their lush, full, rounded bloom, peonies embody romance and prosperity and are regarded as an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage.
Peony flowers are frequently used as ornamental plants and as the subject of a good deal of art – from ancient Chinese watercolor paintings, to modern day body art. This is not surprising, as peonies have a long history in legends and folklore. The most commonly accepted myth is that of Paeon who, although he later became the physiciann of gods, was initially the student of Asclepius who became jealous of Paeon’s abilities. To save Paeon from the anger of Asclepius, Zeus intervened and turned Paeon into a peony flower. A variation of this myth states that a lovely wood nymph called Paeonia was well loved by the gods, so the jealous goddess Venus transformed her into a delicate, blushing peony flower. Peony flowers also have a large part in folk medicine. The idea of peonies as a sort of medicine began during the Middle Ages, when madmen were covered with peony petals and leaves, as the oils were thought to have a soothing, curative effect. All throughout history, though, all parts of the peony have been thought to do everything from easing the pain of childbirth to curing jaundice. Although these plants have long been used for their wide variety of medicinal uses, people are still urged to take precaution, as these flowers, when taken in large doses, are considered poisonous to consume.
In the Language of Flowers, peonies were said to represent bashfulness or even shame. However, today, peony flowers are considered a more luscious symbol of romance, and are thought to be a good omen for happy, prosperous unions. As a gift, these flowers may be given for a variety of reasons – to wish someone a happy life with their new spouse or to celebrate a 12th wedding anniversary. They may represent a wish for the recipient to receive endless love or endless wealth and esteem.