The peony plant, scientifically known as Paeonia, originates from China and can date back to 500 BC. In the eighth century, Buddhist monks introduced peonies to Japan, and were brought to America in the 1800s.
Peonies are also famous for being the state flower of Indiana. Before the peony, zinnias were the state’s flower until 1957. The switch to peonies in 1957 caused tremendous debate during legislation. The house rep of that time was Laurence Barker, and he commercially grew peonies. His peony business is believed to have driven his reasoning in pushing the House Public Policy Committee to finalize this decision.
Peonies are also the only plant that belongs to the Paeoniaceae family. Scientists and plant enthusiasts worldwide debate the number of official peonies species belonging to the Paeonia genus. Most agree that there are between 25 and 40 species of peonies plants, but officially there are 33.
What is a Peony?
As previously stated, peonies are flowering plants from the Paeonia genus. In this article, we predominantly focus on herbaceous peonies, which include the common garden peonies or Chinese peonies and more. Peonies are famous for their strong fragrance, showy foliage, and their creamy white to shades of pink coloring.
Common peonies is a herbaceous perennial flower. What makes a peony perennial is that despite dying back in the fall, they still maintain healthy underground roots.
Peony Meaning & Symbolism
Peony meaning and symbolism is an important aspect of the flower. Peonies derive their name from Greek mythology. Peony comes from the Greek deity, Paeon or Paean, the healer of Hades and Ares’s wounds. Furthermore, Paeon was taught under the god of medicine and healing Asclepius, and their story details how peonies came to be.
Leto, the mother of the Greek god Apollo, told Paeon to go to Mount Olympus and gather a root that helps ease the pain of childbirth. But this quest made Asclepius fill with jealousy and rage. To ensure the safety of Paeon, Zeus, the god of the sky, turned Paeon into a peony flower. Part of what makes this tale so fascinating is that in ancient times, pregnant women would utilize peony seeds.
When peonies are red, they symbolize love, honor, and passion. That is why red peonies and other red flowers are gifts for romantic occasions.
Pink peonies can represent luck and prosperity. This symbolization makes pink peonies a wise and popular addition to wedding flower arrangements.
White peonies symbolize bashfulness; you should gift cut white peonies or a peony plant when apologizing.
Peonies are also known for being the “king of flowers”. Peonies was given this name back during the rule of the Tang Dynasty. They appreciated the strong fragrance and their showy nature.
If you want to grow peonies in your garden, you will need to learn how to take care of them.
Peony plants require a minimal to moderate level of care. Below you will find details about everything there is to know about peonies’ care.
Loamy soil that provides free draining is essential for growing and maintaining peonies. Proper drainage is necessary to prevent root rot and fungal diseases associated with peony plants.
If you are attempting to grow or establish a peony or peonies, you will need to water thoroughly every ten to fourteen days. Once your peony or peonies matures, they will become more drought resistant, but it is still best to water at the same schedule.
A peony plant requires full sunlight for at least six hours a day with a break of afternoon shade to thrive. Placing your peony or peonies in the south-facing portion of your lawn or yard, you can achieve that.
Humidity & Temperature
A peony plant or garden of peonies needs cold winters where the temperature stays around 40°F or 4.4°C for at least six weeks. They also need moderate humidity if you want them to flourish. Too much moisture can cause fungal diseases in peonies.
A 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 low-nitrogen fertilizer applied at 2lb to 3lb pounds can benefit your peonies. You should apply the fertilizer when the peony’s or peonies’ stems are 2″ to 3″ tall.
Common peonies are successfully propagated through division. You should propagate peonies in the fall after the blooming peony season. Once ready, remove a clump with many roots intact. Carefully remove excess soil to reveal all of the growth buds and roots; now take a blade and divide the crown. Each division should have roots attached and three dormant growth buds, and once fully divided, you can plant each peony 1″ deep into a free-draining soil. With proper care, your new peonies should bloom two years after propagating. 
You can propagate wild varieties of peonies successfully, unlike common peony varieties. Simply collect the black fertilized seeds from the peony seed pod as they split in the later summer to early fall months. Immediately sow the peony seeds 1″ deep into a container filled with John Innes compost, then cover the compost with grit and place it in a partially sheltered outdoor location. It can take up to five years for wild peony seeds to flower. 
Diseases & Pests
Common problems with peonies include diseases such as Botrytis blight and leaf blotch. Botrytis blight is a fungal disease that creates gray mold on peonies; it occurs when conditions are overly humid. Leaf blotch is also a fungal disease that causes discoloration in a peony or peonies foliage.
Peony plants do not frequently have pest issues. Although, scales and Japanese beetles can affect the peony plant occasionally.
Peonies only need cutting back in the fall after their blooming season ends and a hard freeze has come through. Simply cut the peony plants back to ground level and discard of any foliage or pieces of the peonies. Removing peony debris prevents future leaf blotch.
Peonies bloom from late spring to early summer. Once the blooming peony season has passed, and fall arrives, your peony plant or garden of peonies will die back to the ground. But your peony will still have thriving roots/tubers underground.
Despite peonies having a slow growth rate, they can live for over 100 years. If you care for them properly, you can have blooms for generations to come.
It is best to grow a peony plant in hardiness zones three through seven. Some gardeners have been able to maintain thriving peony plants in zones eight and nine, but the lack of cold winters can cause peonies not to bloom the following season.
How to Plant Peonies
From when, where, and how to plant peonies, we have you covered! All the information you need about planting peonies is below.
- When to plant
It is best to plant your peonies in the fall and avoid the harsh temperatures of summer. That rule stands for both the division propagation of common peony and the sowing of wild peony seeds.
- Where to plant
You should plant a peony in locations where they can receive six hours of fun sun per day with some afternoon shade in a free draining loamy soil.
- Planting in Pots
To plant your peonies in a pot, you will need a large container filled halfway with a free-draining loamy soil mixture. Follow that by placing your plant in the mixture and filling the container the rest of the way. Water the peony every ten to fourteen days until established. Planting a peony in a pot should be done in the fall.
Peony Growth Habits
After planting, a herbaceous peony is slow growing and takes three years to bloom. Herbaceous peonies’ blooming season is late spring through summer. This peony will die back at the end of their growing season and return the following year. A herbaceous peony can reach 2′ to 3′ tall.
A tree peony can take ten years to reach maturity and will bloom through the spring. Tree peonies do not die back at the end of their growing season, and you will still see their woody stems through the winter. And tree peonies can grow from 4′ to 7′ tall once mature.
The Itoh variety of peonies reaches maturity within three to five years and stands at 2′ to 2.5′ tall. Itoh peonies also die back in the winter like the herbaceous variety.
Types of Peonies
The Paeonia genus of 33 species is divided into two varieties: herbaceous peonies and tree peonies; there is also what some may consider a third variety, Itoh.
Herbaceous Peonies: die back at the end of their growing season every year while maintaining a living root system below ground.
- California Peonies
California peonies are a herbaceous variety, and they have dark maroon petals with yellow anthers. These peonies can grow between 1′ and 2′ tall. California peonies also have lobed leaves.
- Golden Glow Peonies
Golden glow peony is a herbaceous variety, and this peony has scarlet orange to hot pink petals. This peony also has yellow anthers like the California peony. Golden glow peonies grow to 2′ to 3′.
Tree Peonies: are woody stem perennials that don’t die back after their growing season and maintain an above-ground structure.
- Age of Gold Peonies
Age of Gold is a tree peony that has light yellow coloring with red flares amongst its petals. This peony plant reaches 3′ or more tall.
- Floral Rivalry Peonies
Floral rivalry peonies are a tree variety and grow 3′ to 5′ tall. These peonies have an ombre of pink-to-white coloring. And the floral rivalry peony also has yellow anthers.
Itoh Peonies: are named after their original breeder, Toichi Itoh. They are a hybrid of herbaceous peonies and tree peonies and contain various characteristics of both peony types.
- Bratzella Peonies
Bratzella is an Itoh peony with gorgeous yellow coloring. Bratzella peonies grow to 2′ to 3′ tall. Additionally, bratzella peonies have a lemony scent.
- First Arrival Peonies
First arrival peonies are an Itoh variety with traditional pink coloring and become 2′ to 3′ tall.
Peony Flower Types
Peony flowers also come in six different types that determine how many petals they have and how the petals form. Those include single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, bomb, and double. 
Single type peony flowers have five or more petals that are broad and form in one or two rows around the yellow stamens.
Japanese peonies have five or more flower petals around the center of a feather-like structure called staminodes.
Anemone peony flowers do not have anthers like the other flower types. Instead, they have a petal-like stamen structure.
A semi-double peony has five or more outer petals with several broad petals in its center that are interwoven with the stamens. You are able to see the flower’s anthers when it is in bloom.
Bomb peonies have a single row of outer guarding petals that surround a dense tuft of petals in the center.
Double peony flowers have a center of stamens and carpels that transform into petals which are the primary body of the flower. There is also an outer layer of five petals or more.
Peony vs Ranunculus
Peonies and ranunculus have strikingly similar appearances, but they still have some differences. Peonies are larger and have rounder faces, whereas ranunculus flowers have flatter faces and smaller blooms. Ranunculus also has more definfinitive spacing between petals than peony flowers. But peonies have larger tubers, and the fragrance of peonies varies more greatly from species to species.
Frequently Asked Questions
Peonies flourish in hardiness zones with cold winter conditions, and need six weeks of 40°F or 4.4°C temperatures during the winter. A peony plant also needs a moderate moisture environment.
The average herbaceous peony will grow 2‘ to 3‘ tall and 2‘ to 4‘ wide. Some tree varieties of peonies can become as tall as 7‘ while. However, some tree peonies remain small and shrub-sized.
Peonies are easy to grow and care for, requiring moderate to minimal maintenance. Although, if you choose to propagate peonies or grow wild peonies from seed, patience is essential. Garden peonies can take up to two years to bloom, while wild peonies may take as many as five years.
A peony plant thrives when given full sun for six hours a day. Mid-afternoon shade can protect peonies from fading hot climates.
If you do not cut back peonies in the fall, they will die back to the ground. The excess water trapped amongst the old peonies can cause leaf blotch and other fungal diseases in your future
Flowers in Greek mythology. Valentine Floral Creations. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2022, from http://www.valentine.gr/mythology4_en.php
How to grow herbaceous and intersectional peonies / RHS gardening. RHS. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2022, from https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/peony/herbaceous/growing-guide
Botrytis blight, or gray mold—Botrytis and Botryotinia spp. UC IPM . (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2022, from http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/PLANTS/DISEASES/botrytis.html#:~:text=Botrytis%20blight%2C%20or%20gray%20mold,viewed%20with%20the%20naked%20eye.
Kemenetsky, R., & Dole, J. (2012). Herbaceous Peony (Paeonia): Genetics, Physiology and Cut Flower Production. Global Science Books. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from http://www.globalsciencebooks.info/Online/GSBOnline/images/2012/FOB_6(SI1)/FOB_6(SI1)62-77o.pdf