Peony Meaning: Discover the Symbolism Behind the Flower

Updated: Jan. 26, 2024

With their bold blooms, peonies are the showstoppers of spring. Learn more about the history of peonies and what different colors may mean and symbolize.

peony meaningCourtesy Adam Bundy
Peony blooms have special significance for some flower lovers.

For most gardeners, peonies symbolize spring. But thanks to the flower’s long history (dating about 1,400 years back to China’s Tang Dynasty), peonies have gained a variety of meanings across cultures and time periods. So, for example, if you see someone sporting a peony tattoo, where you are in the world may clue you in to what it symbolizes. There are a few common peony meanings, though.

Besides spring, peonies are also associated with weddings and femininity. In the language of flowers or floriography, peonies can mean bashfulness, a happy marriage, love, shame and more. Learn more about peony meaning, symbolism and history.

Learn how to grow and care for peony flowers.

Peony Significance Throughout History

Still life with peoniesmartateron/Getty Images
Peonies arranged in a vase

Peonies are a popular choice for gardeners because of their low-maintenance nature and dramatic blossoms. But in China, they’ve been historically bred for more than just their beauty. (One nickname for the tree peony in China is “the king of flowers” where it also represents masculinity.) Traditionally, the roots, bark, seeds and flowers of tree peonies have been used to treat problems like muscle cramps, headaches and dry skin. Peonies are still used in some medicinal practices today.

They appear in Chinese mythology, too. In one tale, an empress is impatient for spring flowers and orders all the nearby flowers to bloom for her. All of the flowers go along with her demands, except the peony. (Peonies are stubborn to this day and blossom in late spring and early summer.) Peonies also frequently appear in traditional Japanese art and poetry to symbolize a righteous spirit and good fortune.

Do peonies need ants to bloom?

Peonies aren’t just an icon in East Asia histories and cultures; they appear in Greek myths, too. One such myth says that Paeon, a student of the god of medicine Asclepius, healed Hades using a peony root. (Hades then transformed Paeon into a peony to protect him from his envious teacher.) Another version featuring Paeon has him easing a woman’s labor pains by using a peony root from Mount Olympus.

Discover even more little-known peony plant facts

Pink Peony Meaning

pink peony meaningCourtesy Kay C Simonton
Pink blooms on a tree peony

When most people think peonies, they think pink, and it’s pink peonies that regularly show up in bridal bouquets. Pink peonies symbolize affection, prosperity and a happy marriage. They’re also the flower traditionally given on 12th wedding anniversaries. Go for a classic soft pink hue with ‘Lovely Rose’ or ‘Lady Alexandra Duff’ varieties. Or, if you want to turn up the vibrancy, try ‘Barrington Belle,’ which is more of a fuchsia.

Grow a Sarah Bernhardt peony for garden star power.

White Peony Meaning

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Peonies have special meaning to the Chinese culture.

If you find yourself needing to apologize to someone, a couple white peonies will help you get the message across. Besides honor and long life, peonies can also represent bashfulness, shyness or even shame. The color white is associated with purity and sympathy. The person who receives your white peonies will know that you mean it when you say “I’m sorry.” The lush ‘Bowl of Cream’ peony variety doesn’t bloom until its second year but the 12-inch double blossoms are worth the wait.

Check out our guide to growing peonies in pots and containers.

Red Peony Meaning

fernleaf peonyCourtesy Meagyn Scovel
Fernleaf peony

Like many other scarlet-hued blooms, red peonies are associated with passion and love. In China, the color red is also considered lucky. Show your deep affection for someone with a bouquet of red peonies. Or grow some good luck in your own garden. Try planting ‘Henry Bockstoce’ for rich ruby blooms that last about 10 days as cut flowers.

Grow a fernleaf peony for fancy flowers and foliage.

Yellow Peony Meaning

Bnbbyc17 Karen Harenberg 1Courtesy Karen Harenberg
Bartzella peony

Congratulate someone on a new chapter with a yellow peony or two. Yellow peonies symbolize beginnings, fresh starts and optimism, so they make a perfect baby shower or housewarming gift. For a lovely lemony fragrance, add the bright yellow ‘Garden Treasure’ variety to a sunny spot in your backyard.

Peonies come in even more colors, including purple, orange and multicolored. And there are even more options when it comes to flower types, including single, double, bomb, anemone and more. Explore your local garden center to find a peony variety that’s the perfect fit for your garden.

Next, don’t miss these pretty pictures of peonies in full bloom.