Flowers play a significant role in the history of China. Centuries ago, some flowers were the exclusive property of the Chinese emperor. Then ownership by the people became the new reality. Imperial privilege disappeared forever, replaced by a form of market enterprise in which cultivation of flowers became the commoner's prerogative.
The tree peony (Paeonia suffruiticosa) is the official flower of the city of Luoyang, and the national flower of China. Cultivation of the tree peony in Luoyang, the ancient capital of China, dates back about 1,500 years to a time when only the emperor could own these elegant flowering shrubs.
Tree peonies exhibit larger flowers and more unusual colors like yellow, purple, maroon and green, compared to the herbaceous garden variety peony. The tree peony is also more expensive, longer lasting and hardier than the herbaceous peony.
In 1982, Luoyang introduced an annual tree peony festival, held in April when peonies are in full bloom throughout the city and in the major local parks. The festival spotlights some of the more than 350 peony species that grow in Luoyang today, including many especially fragrant varieties and some with contrasting centers that add to their attractive appearance.
In China, cultivation of the chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum) dates back over 3,000 years, to its origins as a much smaller and less significant looking flower than it came to be. Chinese poets popularized the chrysanthemum, extolling its virtues as "the autumn flower," hardy and resilient in the face of the oncoming cold of winter. The chrysanthemum is one of the four designated "honorable flowers," the other three being the plum, the orchid and the bamboo.
During the Sung Dynasty (960 to 1179 A.D.) there were 35 varieties of chrysanthemums recorded in the "Chrysanthemum Book." Today, more than 3,000 varieties of the chrysanthemum exist in China, attesting to its widespread cultivation and popularity.
People in China derive herbal remedies and tea from chrysanthemums, particularly the yellow and fragrant ones harvested in the fall when they are in full bloom. Chrysanthemum herbs are remedies for headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure and eye inflammation. Chrysanthemum extract is also an antiseptic and an antibiotic.
The flowering peach blossom tree (Prunus persica) symbolizes a joyous time of year for the Chinese, the start of a lunar new year, usually in January or February.
Delicate pink flowers characterize the flowering peach blossom, which families and businesses buy at traditional flower markets and display in their homes and offices to usher in the new year. When the blossoms open during the first few days of the new year, the Chinese consider this an auspicious sign of good fortune to follow.