Pee'-uh-nee, please.

Peonies are synonymous with grandmothers. Inevitably you find yourself in conversation about this flower and someone will mention their nana. A conversation with me would be no different. My mom grows her mom's peonies. I grow my moms, her moms and my great aunts. I also grow some sent to me from Japan by a scrapbooking friend I met online.

The standard pronunciation is pee'-uh-nee (accent on the first syllable). However, many people place the accent on the second syllable: pee-oh'-nee. As is often the case with anglicized versions of Latin words, rulings on what should be the standard pronunciation seem rather arbitrary. For hundreds of years, long before garden catalogs, from one corner of the globe to another, peony plants have been grown and admired. However, in excessive doses, all parts of peony plants are poisonous.

I have a love-hate relationship with peonies. I love the large, full, fluffy blooms and their tantalizing fragrance. I love the sheer, ethereal texture of the petals as they unfold from their buds.

But…there are the ants.

I do not like ants.
Not in a box.
Not with a fox.
And surely not on my peonies.

The first summer I had my own peonies, the ants infested the beautiful, plump buds and I was appalled. I jumped in my car and ran to Schermer's (a local garden shoppe that closed long ago) and bought some ant killer. A big can. I sprayed those ants and apologized to my peonies for the ant molestation. Yes, most of you are shaking your heads now and laughing at my naivet̩. I now know the ants are a necessary evil. The ants feed on the waxy sugar on the buds. Ants are not required for bloom or for pollination Рthey are there for the smorgasbord of nectar only.

As is fitting for such a lovely flower, peony plants derive their name from a Greek myth. Paeon, a student under Aesculapius, god of medicine, was well aware of the medicinal qualities of peony plants. He used them to heal a wound suffered by the god, Pluto. The upstaged Aesculapius wasn't pleased and threatened retribution, but, in one of those charming metamorphoses sprinkled liberally throughout the pages of Greek mythology, Pluto saved Paeon's life: he turned him into a peony plant.

Interesting, indeed.

I wonder what plant I would be turned into if my life were to be saved by a Greek god...


Catherine said...

I always just think of them as the ant plant. if you were to say, "catherine, do you know what peonies are?" i would respond, "yes, those are the plants with all the ants."

also, for the record, to add a survey, when you are looking at your blog, click customize in the upper right corner and then add new content.

Diane said...

I need to get you into tree peonies - their buds don't seem to attract ants!


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