Scientific name: Paeonia (genus)

Fact Box:

  • Order: Saxifragales
  • Family: Paeoniaceae
  • Genus: Paeonia


Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, the Paenoia genus contains about 33 species. The flowers in the genus come in white, yellow, beige, pink, salmon, magenta, crimson, and purple varieties. The name of the flower refers to Paeon, a student of the Greek god of medicine, because of the flower’s medicinal qualities.


3 Kinds of Peony Stems: Tree, Herbaceous, and Intersectional hybrids

Tree peonies

  • Sturdy, woody stems
  • Prevalent in Asia; prominent in Chinese culture for thousands of years
  • Blooms from April to May
  • Often yellow
Tree peonies have woody stems and are often larger than herbaceous and intersectional hybrid peonies.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons, no changes made)

Herbaceous peonies

  • Also known as bush peonies, Chinese peonies, or common peonies
  • Do not have woody stems
  • Stems and leaves die in the winter and regrow in the spring
  • Blooms from May to June
  • Fits northern and central climates
  • Never/rarely yellow
  • Nectar attracts ants

Intersectional (Itoh) hybrid peonies

  • Hybrids of tree and herbaceous peonies
  • Named after Toichi Itoh (Japanese peony breeder who produced the first intersectional peonies in the 1960s)
  • Blooms in June and later
  • Sometimes yellow, but has a wide range of colors

6 Peony Flower Forms: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, bomb, double

Find a clear and visually-friendly guide to peony flower forms at the American Peony Society.

Type: herbaceous or Itoh hybrid
Form: single
Type: herbaceous or Itoh hybrid
Form: semi-double or double


China and Japan

In the Tang Dynasty in China, peonies (牡丹 or mǔdān) became the main Imperial Palace flower. Artisans engraved the flowers onto lacquerware food trays, artists painted portraits of women holding the peony flower, and poets mused about the flower in their writings.

Yun Shouping, Qing Dynasty, Peonies
(Source: Wikimedia Commons, no changes made)

In the Qing Dynasty, the peony became the national flower of China, though this has been changed in modern times. Now, there is no official flower in China.

Luoyang, an industrial city in mountainous central eastern China, is renowned for its cultivation of peony flowers. Every year around April 15th-25th, when the peonies are blossoming in the city, the Luoyang Peony Festival occurs, attracting large crowds.

In Japanese art, the peony is a symbol of prosperity and courage. Sometimes, the showy flower also represents masculinity or recklessness.


In ancient Greek and Rome, as well as in the Medieval times, the peony was known as a medicinal herb. Famous painters like Conrad Gessner (ca. 1550), Auguste Renoir (b. 1841), Schongauer (c. 1450–53), and Giuseppe Castiglione (b. 1688) all portrayed the peony flower in their paintings.

In Serbian culture, the red Paeonia peregrina, or Kosovo peonies (косовски божур, kosovski božur), symbolize the blood of the innumerable warriors who fought at the Battle of Kosovo (1389).

Paeonia peregrina is said to symbolize the blood of soldiers wounded and killed at the Battle of Kosovo.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons, no changes made)

North America

The peony is the state flower of Indiana, located in the U.S. midwest.


In ancient China, peony was used as an herb for food flavoring. In addition, the Chinese brewed a tea from the flower petals of the Paeonia lactiflora. Today, people add peony petals to salads and beverages.

The plant was (and is) also used in traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese medicine, specifically the species Paeonia lactiflora and Paeonia suffruticosa, which are dubbed the “King of Flowers” and the “Prime Minister of Flowers” in Japan.

Modern Chinese traditional doctors describe the red and white peonies as cold in nature. The red peony has stronger healing properties than the white peony, and both peonies can help blood flow and alleviate pain, among other qualities. For more information on the peony in traditional Chinese medicine, take a look at this guide.


When preserving flowers as mementos or specimens, dark pink and red peonies are best because their color remains are drying, while the color of white or pale pink flowers tends to go away.

The peony is a popular choice for decorating gravestones on Memorial Day in America.
The large petals on the outside layers of peony flowers are called “guard petals.”
Some peonies are fragrant — citrusy, sweet, woody, fresh, or lightly aromatic.