Flowers are one of the most common plants you can find in a garden. There are countless variants, and all are known for their beautiful aesthetics and scents. One flower that needs more recognition is the peony.
The history of the peony dates back to ancient China more than 1,000 years ago. It rose to popularity during the Tang Dynasty, becoming a fixture in Chinese culture by appearing in their art, literature and fashion. It was even called the “king of flowers” and was the national flower of China before being replaced by the plum in 1929.1,2
What is it about the peony that makes it stand the test of time? Aside from this flower’s ornamental uses, history has shown that it may have therapeutic benefits that may help with various ailments.
Peony contains a mixture of compounds, such as paeoniflorin, albiflorin, oxypaeoniflorin, paeonilactinone, benzoyloxypaeoniflorin and lactinolide.3 All of these work together to provide various potential benefits. Research has shown that peony may help:
- Increase white blood cells — A 2016 study found that the active compounds of peony may help increase the number of white blood cells, as well as reverse the atrophy of the thymus.4
- Relieve pain — Research published in Frontiers in Pharmacology notes that the compounds of peony have analgesic effects.5
- Manage inflammation — Peony may help relieve inflammation-related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It has been found to help minimize factors such as joint swelling, cartilage degradation, synovial hypertrophy and pain.6
- Produce antibodies — In vitro studies show that peony may boost the production of immunoglobulin-M at low concentrations. Conversely, the production of the antibody is inhibited at higher doses.7
- Reduce oxidative stress — Peony has been found to have antioxidant properties.8
Aside from therapeutic applications, peonies are ubiquitous in landscaping or gardening. They’re well-known for their beautiful appearance, which can immensely increase the aesthetic value of your home. Here are just some of the ways you can apply peonies:9
- Bookends — Place peonies on both sides of a walkway to signify the end or beginning of a path.
- Groupings — Combine several peonies together to create an attention-grabbing set piece on your garden.
- Borders — Plant peonies along the edges of garden beds or pathways to create a sense of separation.
Furthermore, peony variants can be mixed and matched to create different unique styles to suit your home. For example, a particular combination can evoke a modern, classical or formal feel, depending on what flowers and other gardening elements you use.10 Here are the variants of peonies and their general descriptions:11
- Anemone — This is an early-blooming peony that’s also low-growing, making it a useful garden plant. It stands only 2 inches tall.
- Rose — Rose peonies are named as such due to their scent’s resemblance to a true rose.
- Single — Well-known for its prolific blooming, a single peony looks like a daisy.
- Golden Circle — This type has big, full blooms.
- Lotus — This flower has three layers of petals and does not need to be staked.
- Crown — This has an appearance similar to an ice cream scoop due to its tight, curly center petals.
- Chrysanthemum — This particular variant contains five to 10 layers of petals that get smaller as they reach the center.
- Hundred Proliferate — The odd name of this peony flower comes from the fact that it has at least 100 petals in each bud.
Peonies can be a huge boon to your garden because they’re an attractive perennial that will last you a very long time. In fact, The Old Farmer’s Almanac mentions that certain peonies have lasted more than 100 years.12 Furthermore, growing them requires very little maintenance due to their sturdiness. All you need to do is make sure that they’re planted and established properly.13 Here are a few tips to help you out.
- Your soil must be well-draining with a slightly acidic pH level of 6.5 to 7.0. The actual component of your soil doesn’t really matter, as peonies can adapt to their environment. But if you have heavy clay soil, it is best to compost it first to make the peonies grow better.14
- Plant peonies where they can get full sun exposure, or at least six hours of sunlight each day. Peonies need plenty of sunlight to grow because if insufficient, they will produce smaller flowers and fewer blooming seasons. Furthermore, their health is compromised and can be prone to fungal diseases like gray mold.15
- Planting peonies into the ground is often done using tuberous roots, which ideally should have three eyes to be sure that they grow strong.16 Create a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet across, then place a single root, then tamp firmly. Set the root in a way that allows the eyes upward, but just 2 inches below the surface. Finally, fill back the hole with soil but don’t bury the root deeper than 2 inches, then water thoroughly. Repeat this process for the other roots.17
- Be patient while growing your flowers. It can take up to three years to produce a high-quality harvest.18
The best time for cutting peonies is when the buds are just about to open. Cut the stems at an angle so that the soon-to-be flowers can absorb water effectively. This will give you time to savor the bloom, which is what peonies are known for.19
You may also cut full-bloom peonies during the spring. They only last for two weeks, so you need to do it quickly. But if you plant different varieties of peony, you can extend the harvest period to six weeks.20
Store peonies that haven’t bloomed yet, so you can take advantage of their beauty when hosting an event at your home. Place freshly cut peony buds in your refrigerator by wrapping them in paper towels, giving them a shelf life of two to three weeks. Once you’re ready to take them out, place them in a vase with warm water while cutting the stems again. They will fully bloom in 24 hours, lasting up to a full week out in the open.21
Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of decoctions from white peony. The root of the peony is dried and then cleaned. Afterward, it is boiled in water, dried again and then sliced. It has been used to manage conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis, dysmenorrhea and muscle cramps.22
There is some published research supporting the effectiveness of peony derivatives. In a 2016 study, a decoction made of peony and glycyrrhiza (licorice) in reducing antipsychotic-related hyperprolactinemia in schizophrenic women.23 In another study, a rhubarb-peony decoction was found to be effective in managing ulcerative colitis by restoring gut microbiota.24
Peony is a plant that hits two birds with one stone — it may help with various ailments while spicing up your garden. It’s a flower that you will enjoy having in your home, no matter what type you choose to grow.