Peonies are native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America. Early in Chinese history, the peony was considered the national flower (although it's now officially the plum blossom). The Tang Dynasty of China began breeding peonies in the imperial courts in the 7th century BCE. Their popularity spread to Japan in the early 11th century and France and England in the 18th century. Then, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they began gaining popularity in the U.S. The peony even became the state flower of Indiana in 1957, replacing the zinnia for the honor.

The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), who was a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. One version of the story goes that Paeon, known as the healer of the gods, used a peony to treat a wound for Zeus. When Asclepius became murderously jealous of his pupil, Zeus saved Paeon by turning him into a peony flower.

Aside from their fragrance and wide availability as cut flowers, peonies are a common flower choice among brides, thanks to their symbolism. They represent romance and love and are considered a good omen of a happy marriage. They're also the traditional flower for 12th wedding anniversaries. Interestingly, during the Victorian Era, the flowers represented shame and shyness. In China and Japan, they stand for strong and positive virtues, such as bravery, honor, respect, nobility, good fortune, and prosperity.

Universally, the peony stands for honoring your word, apologizing when you have wronged another and simplistic beauty found in a woman. Specific variations can be found tied to the exact color of a bloom that extends from love to mourning.

Another symbolic meaning of the peony is “shyness” where a stem of the flower can be translated into “blushing girl”. In French culture, there is even an expression that says, “as red as a peony”. Other lure uses this symbolism to express embarrassment, which is referenced in several poems about nymphs and fairies covering their naked bodies with peony petals from prying eyes. Myth says that it is extremely harmful to your karma to ever remove a rooted peony from your landscaping once it has been planted.

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