Peony – Paeonia officinalis

Peony flower
Peony flower

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them…

By Mary Oliver

Entire poem can be read at


The Peony has been cultivated as a medicinal plant for over 1,500 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The root is the part that is official; it is one of the herbs used to make a woman’s tonic medicine, called ‘Four Things Soup.’ The root is alterative, analgesic, anodyne, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hypotensive, nervine and tonic.

This plant that is native to China, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean region is very greedy inhibiting the growth of other plants around it. It is wise to place any planting of Peonies away from the house. The flower buds produce nectar that attracts ants; they crawl all over the unopened buds.

When I was a teenager my family moved to central Pennsylvania due to my father changing jobs. The house we moved into was already 20 years old and had many plantings already. Along the carport was a hedge of peonies, every June my Mother would fight with ants coming into the house. After I had grown up and moved out, she ended up removing the peonies completely. It was a sad day for me when I came home to visit and found all the peonies piled up at the curb slowly wilting and waiting for disposal.

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