Paeonia redThere is considerable disagreement about the nature of “Piony” but some people believe the word refers to the genus Paeonia, the only genus is the family Paeoniaceae and with between 25 to 40 species. Most peonies are herbaceous perennials but some are shrubby and called tree peonies. This latter group is not a tree but is woody and does not die back in the winter. The herbaceous kinds are 1.5 to 5 feet tall while the tree peonies are 4.5 to almost 10 feet tall. Both have compound, deeply lobed leaves, and large flowers that are sometimes fragrant. The flowers appear in late spring to early summer and may be white, pink, red, or yellow.

In The Tempest (act iv, sc 1, 65) the messenger of the goddess Juno performs a masque celebrating the engagement of Ferdinand and Miranda. Iris asks Ceres to leave her home and join in the activities;

Thy banks with Pioned and twilled brims,
Which spongy April at thy hest betrims
To make cold nymphs chaste crowns;

The sixteenth century herbalist, Gerard, describes a peony with “large redde floures very like roses, having also in the midst, yellow threds or thrums …” and with “three or foure great cods or husks, which do open when they are ripe;” Gerard goes on to tell us that the name peony is derived from the name of Peionie, or Paean, who was the physician to the gods

By Karen