Peony History Timeline
100 Years of Bloom
Peonies (herbaceous and tree) estimated to be in cultivation as medicinal plants in China. (3900 years ago is citation in https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-54863-y
Paeon is described as the healer to the gods, and the link of the European wild peony (P. officinalis) as a medicinal plant confirmed in the Western tradition. The Chinese and Western medicinal traditions run independently until the 1800s.
In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder discusses the European medicinal peony, establishing that it was important in the Roman Empire. Given the value of medicinal plants, it is likely the peony’s spread into much of Europe is well underway, as was the case of many plants valued and transported by the Romans
The still-living tree peony individual, Peony King, is estimated to have started to grow around this time in Luoyang, China https://www.chinahighlights.com/luoyang/attraction/the-national-peony-garden.htm
The ruthless Empress We Zeitian (ruling for 40 years) is the basis of the legend establishing Luoyang’s ancient and continuing signifigance as a world-renowned center for tree peonies: they dared disobey her and she burnt them to the ground. They bloomed the next year in complete defiance. One version at: https://www.shenyunshop.com/blogs/blog/how-did-the-peony-become-the-queen-of-flowers
Nearly 200 varieties of tree peonies are documented in the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), indicating centuries and even over a millennium of prior domestication (see https://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-ZRKY199904006.htm)
In Japan, Bizen province provides the Imperial Court drugs from medicinal plants, including peonies. These plants could not have been native, demonstrating that already domesticated peonies were in Japan by the 8th Century. One of the specific citiations is (pg 133) in Kubo, T, 2009. The problem of inentifying mudan and the tree peony in Early China. https://brill.com/view/journals/asme/5/1/article-p108_7.xml
Calico Cat with Peonies’ by an anomous Song painter, presents a tree peony and cat with nearly photographic precision while encoding the era’s rich and aristocratic associations.
Goryeo Dynasty (Korea) celadons include peony blossom decoration (mid 12th Century). Goryeo celadons are now internationally appreicated as world-heritage ceramics. Ref: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/korea-japan/goryeo-dynasty/a/korean-celadons-of-the-goryeo-dynasty
Master Jon Bray (died 1381), physician to England’s King Edward III, records the European medicinal peony as commonly cultivated (it is not native to England.) This indicates how far and early Mediterranean medicinal plants ‘travelled’ even by this time.