Peony

COMMON NAME:  peony
GENUS:  Paeonia
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
P. lactiflora {Chinese peony}-many hybrids; single or double. P. suffruticosa {TREE PEONY}-shrub; does not die back in winter.
FAMILY:  Ranunculaceae
BLOOMS:  late spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Peony greets spring with offerings of very large, beautiful blossoms in pinks, white, and shades of red. The foliage is neat and attractive, and the plants create an appealing, low {2 1/2 to 3 foot} shrub during the summer months. Peony flowers are full and measure 4 to 6 inches across.
CULTIVATION:  Probably one of the greatest attributes of peonies is their longevity. Some peony plants are reported to be more than 100 years old. Once established, peonies should not be transplanted. The plants are tolerant of a wide range of soils but will perform best in neutral or slightly alkaline soils that are light, fertile, and rich in organic matter. Peony roots should be planted so that the eyes are exactly 1 1/2 inches below the soil level. Mix in generous amounts of humus or peat moss before planting. In northern areas, plant in full sun. In hot southern climates, provide a bit of shade.

Called the blessed herb, peonies have been used for centuries for their magical and medicinal properties. Among the powers that peony was thought to possess are the ability to protect shepherds and their flocks; to ward off storms, demons, and nightmares; and to preserve the harvest from danger. Peony is the Greek symbol of healing and the Japanese symbol for a happy marriage and virility. It is the Japanese floral emblem for the month of June.
The Chinese have grown this flower for over 2,000 years. The name for it there is Sho-yo, which means “the beautiful,” and it is considered the flower of prosperity. One Chinese emperor called peonies roses of spring, and a single specimen sold for as much as 100 ounces of gold. According to the Chinese calendar, the tree peony is the floral symbol for March.
The medicinal powers of the plant are legendary. It was named for Paeon, physician to the Greek gods, and a student of Asclepius, {god of medicine and healing}. Leto,  goddess of fertility, told Paeon about a magical root growing on Mount Olympus that would soothe the pain of a woman in childbirth. When Paeon went to get this root, Asclepius became jealous and angry and threatened to kill his pupil. Leto begged help from Zeus, who saved Paeon from the wrath of his teacher by changing him into the peony flower.
Perhaps because of this legend, peony seeds have been given to pregnant women for centuries. It was also thought that the roots, held over a person’s head or around the neck, would cure insanity. Other medicinal uses included the prevention of epileptic convulsions and soothing the gums o teething infants. Pliny, a Roman statesman, said that peonies are the “oldest of plants, and are an important medicine that cures twenty ills.”
Superstition warns us, however, that the plant is protected by woodpeckers. If you try to gather peony for medicinal purposes while a woodpecker is in sight, your patient might die.
The magical powers of peonies were thought to be even stronger than the medicinal ones. Mothers in rural areas hung strings of peony seeds around an infant’s neck as a protection against the “Evil Eye.” The seeds, particularly if soaked in rain water, were worn as an amulet for protection against witchcraft and the devil. The plant’s reputation for supernatural powers was enhanced by its phosphorescent qualities-some plants actually glow in the dark. For the most potent magical powers, seeds and roots were gathered in the dead of night.
The first peonies, considered important healing herbs, were brought to England by the Roman legions in 1200. They have been cherished in England since then, first for their medicinal value, and then for their unparalleled beauty. Peonies have been in the United States since early colonial days. For the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, peony was used to symbolize the American spirit, ambition, and determination to adapt and thrive.
The only country ever named for a flower was Paeonia, located in what is now northern Greece. It was a legitimate country complete with a government, army, and imperial ring, but it was conquered during the Persian Wars.
Peony is the state flower of Indiana.

  The language of peony is shame, for it was thought to be the hiding place of a dishonorable nymph.
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