Sure, It's Gorgeous, But What’s the Meaning Behind the Peony Flower?

From bridal bouquets to showstopping floral arrangements in the background of high-end homes in interior design magazines, peonies are beyond popular. They’re lush, showy and offer all the fullness of hydrangeas, only they’re a little more elegant. But there’s so much more to these blooms than their pretty petals. Let’s dive right in to the peony flower’s meaning, its history and other facts that will make you appreciate each bud even more.

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What Are Peonies?

Known as “the floral symbol of China, the state flower of Indiana, and the 12th anniversary flower,” this versatile perennial blossoms into lush flowers between late spring and early summer and, if cared for properly, can continue blooming for nearly 100 years. You heard that right, a century.

Peonies first appeared in Chinese gardens and later landed in Japan thousands of years ago, where they were used for medicinal purposes, eventually making their way to Europe and North America. Today, they are most often used in decoration and for celebration, and rightfully so given their charm.

With more than 6,500 peony cultivars, the *exact* species count can vary. While the American Peony Society says there are 48 peony species, Britannica reports 30 species and three different groups: “the herbaceous Eurasian peonies, the Asian tree or moutan, peonies and the North American peonies.”

Number of species aside, it’s indisputable that the popularity of peonies around the world has grown over time and for reasons beyond their medicinal history and sheer beauty. That’s where their symbolism becomes so important, especially when broken down into different colors.

The Meaning and Symbolism of Peony Flowers

There are a couple of myths surrounding how peonies got their name. One tells the story of Paeon, the physician to the gods in Greek mythology, who used the liquid of a peony flower to cure Pluto. A second tells the story of Paeonia, who attracted the attention of Apollo, making Aphrodite act out of jealousy and turn the nymph into a peony flower.

In both legends, the peony is linked to healing and attraction, and since the Chinese word for “most beautiful” also translates to “peony,” it makes sense that they are known to symbolize beauty and love (psst: they’re also associated with honor and prosperity).

When digging deeper into the meaning, however, you’ll find each color actually has its own symbolism behind it. Before choosing which peony bush to plant in your yard, incorporate in your home decor or arrange at your wedding, you’ll probably want to learn a little more about what some of the most common peony hues symbolize, and for which occasion they’re best.

The 4 Most Popular Peony Colors & Their Meanings

peony flower meaning white

1. White Peonies Are Best For: Saying I'm Sorry

If you need to apologize, grab a few white peonies when you do so. White peonies are not only a symbol of beauty but they can also be interpreted to mean bashfulness, shame and regret, making them a go-to for expressing remorse and making amends. Some award-winning white peony varieties include Bride’s Dream, Shirley Temple, Bowl of Cream, and Elsa Sass.

peony flower meaning red
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2. red Peonies Are Best For: Anniversaries

As with many things that come in red, red peonies symbolize love, passion, prosperity, wealth and honor, so if you want to surprise your S.O. on date night or an anniversary, these are for you. Award-winning red peony varieties include, Many Happy Returns, Red Charm and Scarlett O’Hara.

peony flower meaning yellow
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3. yellow Peonies Are Best For: Housewarming Parties

Yellow peonies symbolize new beginnings, making them ideal for anyone starting a new chapter in their lives, whether it’s celebrating your sister’s new job, welcoming your new neighbors or congratulating friends who are soon-to-be parents. Stunning yellow peony varieties to consider include Prairie Charm, Garden Treasure and Bartzella.

peony flower meaning pink
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4. pink Peonies: Walking Down The Aisle

Arguably the most classic color for this flower type, pink peonies are frequently seen at weddings and in bridal bouquets as they represent happy marriage, good luck and prosperity. In addition to being a go-to for wedding flower arrangements, it’s also the flower for twelfth anniversaries for all the happiness in love it symbolizes. Top pink peony varieties include Lady Alexandra Duff, Sorbet, Rozella and Pink Parfait.

Other Peony Colors to Consider

If you’re looking for something a little more unique, coral, orange and purple peonies are also gorgeous options, though not as common as the classic pinks, whites, reds and yellows. Considering searches for places to buy peonies nearby—and just for peonies in general—have been rising every year (naturally spiking around May, when they’re in season), according to Google, you really can’t go wrong with whatever shade you choose.

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Taylor Mead

Freelance PureWow Editor

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