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A Brief History of Peony

A Brief History of Peony

A Brief History of Peony

Love, prosperity, and honor are three things that come to mind when I think of the word.  Three words perfectly encapsulated by this flower, whose countless hues of color, as well as its fragrance, have captivated emperors and nobles over many eras and epochs.

We went out to discover the peony, an all-purpose plant whose blossom is among the most highly prized of today's globe, thanks to its look, its history, and its tantalizing perfume.

The peony has a long history in the history of many peoples, and its name and image have inspired legends and symbols that are being used today.

Peony: The flower that symbolizes compassion

The peony is a beautiful plant that is the sole member of the Ranunculaceae family of perennial plants that have exceptional longevity due to its powerful, coiled roots' ability to adapt to most types of soil, including drought.

As a result, the peony is one of the easiest decorative plants to grow if a few simple guidelines are followed.

The peony is known for its colorful flowering, which brightens up our gardens every year. All of the world's peonies bloom for a brief but intense period from April to May, displaying big, eye-catching blossoms with 5 to 10 petals apiece. The peony's color can range from spotless white to "bubble-gum" pink, as well as vibrant crimson and exotic tints of yellow, depending on the species, but the leaves are always emerald green.

Legends of Peony: The flower of Gods and Emperors

The peony is more than simply a pretty flower... Two separate legends about the peony's origins come from two very different (and distant) countries: China and Greece. The term "Peony" comes from Paean, the Greek god of medicine, or the "attending physician" of the Greek gods.

One tale refers to an occurrence in Homer's Iliad in which Zeus transforms Paean into a flower after he uses the roots of a plant with tremendous therapeutic abilities to treat the god Pluto's terrible wounds suffered in a fight with Hercules.

To protect the god Paean from his instructor Asclepius' wrath, Zeus granted immortality to the "doctor of the gods," changing him into the Peony plant, whose roots, with their many medical benefits, are still used today.

An immortal plant whose patience is infinite

The second legend originates from the peony's native land, China, where it was already regarded as the "Queen of Flowers" 2000 years ago in Chinese imperial culture and in the collective imaginations of Asian peoples. But how did it come to be known as such a title?

According to legend, on a frosty winter morning, an empress as beautiful as she was capricious used her magical abilities to command the blooming of all the flowers in the royal garden. Except for one, the peony, which, fearing the Empress's wrath, obeyed her every wish! The Empress was so taken aback by the flower's bravado that she ordered her attendants to transport all of the realm's peonies to the Empire's coldest and farthest borders.

The peony, on the other hand, thrived in the cold, hostile atmosphere, blooming magnificently colored blossoms for all to behold. The Empress, seeing she had been overcome by the peony's tenacity and determination, allowed it to return from exile and crowned it "Queen of All Flowers."

Historical Background

Peonies have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. They were originally observed in the eastern portion of the world, and as rulers transferred their courts to other locations, they spread throughout the world. Around 700 A.D., the plant arrived in Asia. The peony plant was prized not just for its beauty but also for its medical capabilities by various cultures.

The many portions of the peony were thought to have medicinal properties all over Europe and Asia. They were used to alleviate bladder and stomach problems, as well as various interior disorders and even night tremors. Flower petals are also used by the Chinese in their meals and drinks to give them a distinct flavor.

The peony plant was seen as a symbol of prosperity, beauty, and health by Christians during the Middle Ages. The seeds and roots were utilized in herbal drinks and medications to treat a range of illnesses from the inside out. Many of these Christians proceeded to cultivate hybrids of the plants in the hopes of improving their healing properties. Many of these hybrids can now be seen in gardens and bouquets all over the world.

Peonies were known as the Queen of Herbs in ancient Greece, and the King of Flowers in ancient China. The therapeutic qualities of the alkaloids and glucosides contained in peony roots are now being researched by scientists. Herbaceous, Tree Peonies, and Intersectional peonies are the three types of peonies (Itoh). Perennials, herbaceous peonies die back to the ground each fall. Tree peonies are a type of shrub peony that loses their leaves in the fall. Intersectional peonies, also known as Itoh peonies, are a hybrid of herbaceous and tree peonies.

Dr. Toichi Itoh, a Japanese horticulturist, initially developed them in the 1940s. Unfortunately, Dr. Itoh died before his creations could bloom, and the rest of the world was nearly completely unaware of this new species of peony due to the Cold War that followed World War II. Fortunately, Itoh's work was followed by an American gardener called Louis Smirnoff, who bought some of the original intersectional peonies from Itoh's widow. Many other types of peonies from China and Japan became available for purchase around the world in the 1980s and 1990s.

Peony’s Healing Properties

These two legends combine the peony's distinguishing characteristics: strength and longevity, as well as the healing properties of its roots... There's even more! Even in the case of epileptic fits, homeopathic medicine uses every part of the Peony plant (roots, leaves, seeds, and flowers) to alleviate spasms and act as a sedative. Its roots are also effective in treating neuralgia, migraines, agitation, and anxiety.

This is due to chemicals in the flower's petals, such as paenolum and paeoniflorin, which have a calming and analgesic effect. A pinch of peony is typically found in today's herbal drinks, providing a fruity flavor to a variety of calming concoctions. In short, the peony is a plant whose all-encompassing use, from its seeds to its roots to its petals, has made it a lifelong companion to human well-being.

The peony is a stunning joy that should be seen firsthand. It plays a prominent role in gardens all over the world, but one garden where it is featured solely is much closer to us than you might think!

The Moutan Botanical Centre in Vitorchiano, Lazio, is one of the largest single-plant botanical centers dedicated to peonies in the world (in the Province of Viterbo).

During the flowering season, these 30-plus acres of pure poetry, which are home to over 600 varieties of Chinese peonies, are open to the public, giving an array of colors and aromas that make for a must-see, must-savor event.


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