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THE LEGEND OF THE PEONY, A SUMMER FLOWER

The peony is the flower of June in Japan, symbolizing hands full of cash!

peony
Peonies in my garden in Belgium

The peony is a beautiful flower that I saw for the first time in my grandmother’s garden. It also brings colour to my garden in Belgium. This flower is named after Paeon, a Greek deity of healing. Paeon was a student of Asclepius, the god of medicine.

As a deity of healing, Peon was as well a healing practitioner to the gods. He was then instructed by Leto, Apollo's mother, to obtain for her a magical root growing on Mount Olympus that would soothe the pain of women in childbirth. Leto was the goddess of fertility and wanted to use the plant’s virtues for therapeutical purposes.

When god Asclepius heard that Peon had found the magical root, he became jealous of his disciple and threatened to kill him. Apparently, the Olympian goods were not all virtuous... Leto asked Zeus, the father of all gods, to save Peon from the wrath of Asclepius, and Zeus then changed Peon into a flower that was named after him.

The peony is a flower very much praised in China where it is called “the most beautiful”. For the Chinese, it is symbol of beauty and prosperity. And you for sure guess, there is a Chinese legend about the peony. It is a legendary story that tells of the origin of the black peony.

According to that story that dates back to the Tang dynasty, queen Wu was one winter day drinking tea with princess Tai Ping in the Imperial Flower Garden in Xiyuan, when a sweet fragrance of flowers greeted them. It was the aroma of the winter jasmine in bloom. Queen Wu rewarded the winter sweet but felt disappointed that no other flowers were blooming in the garden. She then wrote and poem and sent it to the goddess of flowers saying: "Tomorrow I will visit the garden; let me know that spring has come. All flowers are to bloom tonight; don't wait for the spring breeze to blow."

The next morning, all the flowers were in bloom as if it were spring time, except for the peony that disobeyed the order and refused to bloom out of season.

Queen Wu was so angry that she had it banished from Xiyuan, the capital at that time, and sent away to the old capital Luoyang. To everybody’s surprise, as soon as the peony arrived in Luoyang it bloomed beautifully.

When queen Wu heard about this, she ordered the flower to be burnt to the ground. But the following year, the burnt peony produced black flowers. Of course, the story is a myth but there is an underlying current of reality in it, because the art and skill of forcing flowers to bloom early were developed in ancient times.

© Dulce Rodrigues

 

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