But March 15, 2012 marks the 55th anniversary of the Hoosier state choosing the Peony as its 4th state flower.

In 1913 the carnation was the first Indiana state flower adopted by the legislature. This decision was greeted by protests as the carnation was not native to Indiana. Bowing to pressure the General Assembly adopted the blossom of the Tulip Poplar as the second state flower in 1923.

This selection was short lived; in 1931 the Zinnia was name the 3rd state flower selected in just 18 years. They say that politicians can't make up their minds; I guess this proves that point. Rumor has it that a large grower of zinnia seeds in the state lobbied for this choice and evidently his lobbying paid off.

In 1957 politics entered the picture again. A state representative who was a large commercial peony grower got behind the movement to make the peony the fourth state flower in 99 years. This decision was again filled with controversy as the peony is not a native plant to Indiana. It has endured for 55 years so let's see how long it takes for politics to get involved again.


Peonies can be traced back to China as early as 1000 BC. During the T'ang dynasty that followed (618-906) peonies supposedly became very popular in the imperial gardens and they were put under imperial protection. The best varieties commanded huge prices and peonies were often part of a dowry settlement.

At the beginning of the eighth century when peonies reached Japan, Japanese horticulturists began to experiment with them. The Japanese simplified the flowers and produced lighter, less-complicated flower heads.

In 1948 Mr.Toichi Itoh of Tokyo succeeded in making a cross. He crossed the tree peony with an herbaceous peony. Of the resulting 36 seedlings, six were considered outstanding. They were the first peonies of herbaceous character to have deep yellow, almost double flowers.

With the arrival of the Chinese peonies in North America during the 1830s the popularity of peonies began to grow. By the 1850s numerous American nurseries began offering new varieties of herbaceous peonies.

Peonies grow from two to four feet in height. Support is often required for tall, double hybrids. Peonies thrive in sunny locations and well-drained soils, tolerating a wide range of soil types. They are best growth is in soil with a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, deep and rich in organic matter. They prefer full sun, which means at least 8 hours daily, but they will survive with a bit less, they just will not bloom as well. Most peonies need some support once they bloom, as the heavy blossoms can weigh the stems down. There are special peony supports that act like a cage to keep the stems and leaves upright. They do need cold winters to properly form flower buds though and if you live further south than USDA Zone 7 that could prove problematic. The varieties of 'Sarah Bernhardt' and 'Festiva Maxima' can tolerate a bit warmer winters, but they still won't do well if you are south of Atlanta.

From my boyhood, I recall fishing trips with my dad. He always buried the fish entrails under our peonies and our peonies were outstanding.

Peonies can be very touchy when it comes to transplanting. To reduce shock, plant them at exactly the same depth in their new location as in their old. They do best when planted in the autumn so they can experience a winter in their new home and it can still take several years to have them bloom.

For some reason they are also sensitive to their orientation to the sun. I tie a ribbon to the north facing side of the plant before digging. As I replant it in the new spot I make sure the ribbon is still facing north. By following these steps I've transplanted many peonies that continued to bloom beautifully.

Common problems of peonies and reasons they may fail to bloom:

  • Planting too deeply
  • Immature plants
  • Excess nitrogen
  • Inadequate sunlight
  • Overcrowding
  • Phosphorus and/or potassium deficiency
  • Insect or disease problems
  • Competition from roots of nearby plants
  • Late freezes

I'm fortunate to live minutes away from one of the premier peony gardens in the world: the peony garden at the Nichols Arboretum on the campus of The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan has over 270 historic cultivated varieties from the nineteenth and early twentieth century representing the best American, Canadian, and European peonies of the era. These are arranged in 27 beds with each full bed containing 30 peonies. The Peony Garden holds nearly 800 peonies when filled to capacity. It is an outstanding place to visit if you are ever in the area during bloom season.

Whether you are from Indiana or not, try growing some peonies. They don't have to be your state's official flower to be a beautiful addition to your garden!