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What Is Peony?

The peony, with its vibrant colors, delightful fragrance, elegant charm, and grandeur, is renowned as the “king of flowers.” In terms of cultivation types, there are hundreds of varieties based on the flower’s color. Peonies come in a wide range of colors, with yellow, green, blush pink, deep red, and silver-red being considered top-quality, particularly […]

The peony, with its vibrant colors, delightful fragrance, elegant charm, and grandeur, is renowned as the “king of flowers.” In terms of cultivation types, there are hundreds of varieties based on the flower’s color.

Peonies come in a wide range of colors, with yellow, green, blush pink, deep red, and silver-red being considered top-quality, particularly prized are the yellow and green varieties. Peonies have large blooms and a fragrant scent, earning them the title of “the nation’s beauty and heavenly fragrance.”

1. Morphological Characteristics of Peony

Peony is a plant belonging to the Paeonia genus in the family Paeoniaceae. It is a perennial deciduous shrub with stems that can reach up to 2 meters in height, characterized by short and thick branches.

The leaves are typically compound with two to three pairs of leaflets. They have a green color on the upper surface, smooth and hairless, while the lower surface is pale green and sometimes covered in a whitish powder. The leaf stalks are 5-11 centimeters long, and both the stalks and leaf axes are hairless.

Peony flowers are solitary and borne at the ends of branches. The sepals are green, broadly ovate, and there are five bracts. The petals can be single or double, exhibiting a wide range of variations in color, ranging from rose, purplish-red, pink to white.

They are often inversely ovate in shape with irregular wavy edges. The stamens are elongated and measure around 4 millimeters in length.

The receptacle is leathery, cup-shaped, and purplish-red in color. The carpels are densely covered in soft hairs, and there are five of them. The fruiting period occurs in June, following the flowering period in May.


2. Growth Habits of Peony

Peonies prefer a warm, cool, dry, and sunny environment. They thrive in full sunlight but can tolerate partial shade. They are cold-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and can withstand weak alkaline conditions. However, they should be protected from waterlogging and intense heat.

Peonies grow best in loose, deep, fertile, well-drained neutral sandy loam soil. They do not grow well in acidic or heavy clay soil.

Adequate sunlight is beneficial for their growth, but they cannot withstand intense summer sun exposure. When the temperature rises above 25°C, peony plants enter a dormant state.

The optimal temperature range for flowering is 17-20°C, but they require a low-temperature treatment of 1-10°C for 2-3 months before flowering.

Peonies can tolerate temperatures as low as -30°C, but in cold regions of the northern hemisphere, appropriate measures should be taken to protect them from freezing during winter.

In the southern regions with hot and humid climates, peonies face unfavorable conditions for growth.

Therefore, specific environmental conditions need to be provided for peonies to showcase their stunning beauty.

3. Distribution Range of Peony


China possesses rich resources of peonies, and according to surveys conducted by the Chinese Peony National Flower Office, peony cultivation can be found in most provinces across China.

Peonies can be broadly classified into three types: wild species, semi-wild species, and horticultural cultivars.

China has the largest cultivation area for peonies. Central China’s flower farmers travel to Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Shenzhen, and Hainan during the winter to induce peony flowering.

This practice has led to peonies establishing themselves in these regions, making peony cultivation widespread across various provinces and autonomous regions in China.

4. Classification of Peony Populations

China is the birthplace and kingdom of peonies worldwide. Chinese horticultural peony cultivars can be classified into four peony variety groups based on different cultivation regions and wild species. These groups are the Central Plains variety group, Northwest variety group, Jiangnan variety group, and Southwest variety group.


The Chinese horticultural peony variety system has evolved along a main line and several subsidiary lines. The main line is represented by the Central Plains variety group, while the subsidiary lines include the Northwest variety group, Jiangnan variety group, and Southwest variety group, among others.

From a historical perspective, there has been exchange and integration between different variety groups. However, due to the variations in natural conditions and primary wild species among the different variety groups, distinct characteristics have been formed within each group.

Therefore, at locations where different variety groups are in close proximity, there are often obvious signs of exchange between them. For example, Yan’an peony varieties exhibit a noticeable fusion between the Central Plains variety group and the Northwest variety group.

5. Classification of Peony Colors


Peonies in different regions of China exhibit various colors such as red, purple, magenta, pink, white, blue, green, yellow, black, and multicolored, as well as different flower forms including single-petal, lotus-flower-shaped, crown-shaped, pagoda-shaped, and globe-shaped.

They also possess traits such as drought resistance, cold tolerance, heat tolerance, and moisture tolerance.

More than 300 varieties can be cultivated in temperate, cold, subtropical, and hot regions within China, while there are also over 100 Japanese, American, and French varieties.

6. Propagation Methods of Peonies

Peonies can be propagated through methods such as division, grafting, cuttings, seeding, layering, and tissue culture. However, division and grafting are the most commonly used methods, while seeding is often employed for cultivating new varieties.

7. Main Uses of Peonies


Peonies are highly valued for their vibrant colors, graceful forms, pleasant fragrance, and overall beauty. They have large and colorful flowers that stand out among other flowers. Peony cultivation and research have flourished, resulting in a wide variety of cultivars. China alone boasts over five hundred peony species.

Peonies are designated as the city flower in Heze and Luoyang, both located in China. Notable peony gardens include the Caozhou Peony Garden, Baihua Garden, Gujin Garden in Caozhou, and Wangcheng Park, Peony Park, and Botanical Garden in Luoyang.

Every year, a peony flower festival takes place from April 15th to 25th. Peony landscapes can also be found in cities such as Lanzhou, Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou.

Additionally, the image of peonies is widely used in traditional arts such as embroidery, painting, printing, and carving.


Peony flowers can be used for culinary purposes. In many parts of China, fresh peony petals are used to make peony soup or added as a colorful ingredient in various dishes. Steaming the peony petals can produce a fragrant and flavorful peony infused liquor.



Medicinal peonies are cultivated with a focus on specific varieties, often characterized by white flowers. The root bark, known as “Mudanpi” in Chinese, is used as a cooling blood tonic and blood-stasis-removing traditional Chinese medicine.

Li Shizhen, a renowned Chinese medical expert from history, once said, “The finest peonies are those with red colors. Although they bear seeds, new shoots grow from the roots, hence the name ‘Mudan.'”

He also believed that wild single-petal peonies were preferable for medicinal use, while the heavily-petaled varieties cultivated for ornamental purposes had impure aromas and were not suitable for medicine.

Anhui and Sichuan are the major producers of Mudanpi, with Fenghuang Mountain in Tongling, Anhui, being recognized as the hometown of high-quality Mudanpi, commonly known as “Fengdan.”

The best quality Mudanpi is characterized by thick bark, tender flesh, a white cross-section, abundant powdery texture, strong fragrance, and numerous bright spots.

Mudanpi has a slightly cold nature with a bitter and pungent taste. It enters the heart, liver, and kidney meridians. It has the functions of clearing heat, cooling blood, promoting blood circulation, and relieving blood stasis.

It is used for conditions such as eruptive diseases due to heat toxicity, hematemesis, epistaxis, night fever and morning coolness, non-sweating bone-steaming sensation, dysmenorrhea, boils, swelling, sores, bruises, and pain.

Modern research has shown that Mudanpi exhibits various activities, including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-tumor, hemostatic, blood-stasis-removing, heat-clearing, detoxifying, sedative, analgesic, and antispasmodic effects.

It can also enhance monocyte phagocytic function, improve specific immune function, and increase the weight of immune organs. However, caution should be exercised when using Mudanpi, as it is contraindicated for individuals with blood deficiency and coldness, as well as pregnant women and those with excessive menstrual bleeding.

Peony flowers contain astragaloside, which, apart from being used for ornamental purposes, can also be used medicinally for regulating menstruation and promoting blood circulation.


8. Flower Language of Peonies

Peonies are renowned and precious flowers in China, with a cultivation history of over two thousand years. The symbolism of peonies is associated with wealth and peace. With their large and fragrant blossoms, peonies are often referred to as the “national beauty and fragrance,” and they have been hailed as the “king of flowers” for centuries.

The flower form of peonies is broad and robust, earning them the title of the “king of flowers.” They represent completeness, passion, prosperity, and elegance.

Peonies symbolize life, hope, subtle love, and heartfelt devotion. Additionally, peonies convey traits of purity, grace, dignity, exquisite charm, national beauty, and trustworthiness.

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Founder of FlowersLib

Peggie was once a high school mathematics teacher, but she set aside her chalkboard and textbooks to follow her lifelong passion for flowers. After years of dedication and learning, she not only established a thriving flower shop but also founded this blog, “Flowers Library”. If you have any questions or wish to learn more about flowers, feel free to contact Peggie.

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