Do Peonies Smell Good?

With many different flowers available; it can be hard to find one that matches your garden design and smells good. Peonies are in high demand because of their gorgeous flowers, which look great in gardens and home decor.

You may wonder if Peonies have a scent, and if so, what do they smell like? Many like a rose, while others describe the smell as rotten fish. But, what is the truth?

Most Peonies smell good, but some varieties smell rotten, fishy, or like ammonia, and others have no scent. The Philippe Rivoire Peony is the most fragrant with a scent similar to roses. Peonies in the Rafflesia genus have a strong rotten or fishy smell.

Continue reading below to learn more about Peonies, including what they smell like and what perfumes you can find that genuinely smell like Peonies. 

What Do Peonies Smell Like?

Smelling peonies
Every Peony species can have a different smell. Most of the time the smell is described as sweet or rosy. This pleasant smell mixed with bold blooms makes for a flower you’d be proud to keep in a vase in your home. 

The strength of Peonies scent is also variable among different species. Some smell bold and bright, while others provide just a hint of fragrance. The most common description of a Peony smell is that it is very similar to a rose but without the strong peppery notes of some roses. 

Others often describe Peonies as having a citrusy and spicy smell. 

Unfortunately, some Peonies also smell bad. While most smell beautiful and fragrant, some can smell like rotting fish. Thankfully, this isn’t very common, so you shouldn’t have to worry about coming across them regularly. 

Some more modern species and hybrids are almost scentless, which is unfortunate. These tend to be showier Peonies that people grow outdoors with big, beautiful blossoms. The older varieties, however, still have a lot of smell. 

What Factors Affect Peony Smells?

There are a couple factors that affect how the Peony smells.

  • Time of day: First thing in the morning, the fragrance of the Peonies tends to be strongest. It begins to fade away throughout the day. 
  • Humidity: The higher the humidity, the longer the smell will remain, as the fragrance doesn’t disperse off the petals. 
  • Sunlight: As sunlight dries the petals and evaporates the fragrance oils, more sun will equal less smell. 
  • Temperature: While cold isn’t good for Peonies as it tends to mute the smell, hotter weather will have a similar effect. Usually, more mild temperatures are the best for a stronger smell. 
  • Age of the flower: While Peonies can last for many years, their fragrance tends to decrease with age. 

People generally find double-flowered Peonies with white or pink petals to be the most fragrant, while reds tend to have the least scent.

No individual Peony is considered the best. Some people find the Philippe Rivoire, a red Peony with a scent, to be the best. They describe it as smelling similar to roses.

However, a fair amount of people find the Festiva Maxima to be the most fragrant. It has a white bloom and a strong fragrance. However, some people don’t like it because, on top of the aromatic rose smell, some describe it as having an undertone of ammonia.

There is also the Paeonia Henry Bockstoce. Though this one is red, it is a double flower with a fragrance. Unfortunately, though everyone describes these as fragrant and slightly sweet, there is no exact definition or description of their scent.

The Peonies to avoid are ones in the Rafflesia genus. They release an odor similar to rotten meat or decaying fish. This smell is used to attract flies that pollinate the plant. However, you probably do not want their smell in your home all the time or in your yard.

So when picking Peonies to grow in your garden, do some research first. If you are sensitive to strong smells, there are plenty of non-fragrant varieties, and there are also many that have beautiful fragrances if that is what you want.

Although the Rafflesia genus isn’t widely popular for obvious reasons, there are some in circulation, so always make sure you know what you are getting before making a final purchase. 

What Are the Top Ten Most Fragrant Peonies?

Different colors of peonies
Besides the ones listed above, the next most fragrant peonies are:

  1. Paeonia Lactiflora (Cora Stubbs)
  2. Paeonia Lactiflora (Duchesse de Nemours)
  3. Paeonia Lactiflora (Hermione)
  4. Paeonia Lactiflora (Philomele)
  5. Paeonia (Bartzella)
  6. Paeonia (Burma Ruby)
  7. Paeonia (Garden Treasure)
  8. Paeonia (Merry Mayshine)
  9. Paeonia (Pink Derby)
  10. Paeonia (Pink Hawaiian Coral)

If you look at some of these, you will notice that some are red, and not all are double flowers. Though those are generally the most fragrant, there are some exceptions, such as the Burma Ruby and the Merry Mayshine.

These are all very fragrant flowers but don’t worry; the smells are pleasant, not the strong fishy ones that some Peony varieties have.

Why Do My Peonies Not Smell?

The conditions surrounding your Peonies may impact the smell. If they’ve had a scent in previous years, they could stop smelling due to age, especially if other Peonies in your garden continue to give off a strong fragrance.

However, if you notice your other Peonies are not as fragrant either, it could be due to heat and humidity. 

If you’ve never noticed your Peonies having a fragrance, it may be because you bought a variety that doesn’t have a scent. Several varieties don’t have fragrances, many of which are red ones.

Often, if a Peony is hybridized, then the fragrance is often the first thing lost. 

How Do You Grow Fragrant Peonies?

It is best to grow Peonies in hardiness zones between 3 and 8 for optimal fragrance. If you don’t know, hardiness zones help people determine what plants grow best in their area based on various conditions like soil type and humidity.

Peonies also like a pH of about 6 and lots of sunshine and nutrients. Giving them lots of space, well-draining soil, and enough water is also key to ensuring that Peonies will fully develop their fragrance. 

What Does A Peony Smell Like In Perfume?

Since Peonies are similar to roses in smell, it makes sense that they lend a rosy fragrance to perfume. It is a clean, fresh scent with a hint of spice or citrus. 

Sometimes, it is hard to catch the Peony smell in perfumes, as it is often overwhelmed by the other fragrances. 

What Perfumes Have Peony Notes?

Some of the best perfumes with Peony notes are ones where you can smell the Peonies and not have their scent be overwhelmed by other fragrances included. Also, while they smell similar to roses, they do have a faint distinction that people who love Peonies look for. 

Some of the best perfumes with Peony notes are:

  • Montale Sweet Peony Eau de Parfum 
  • Amouage Dia Woman Eau de Parfum
  • Coach Floral Blush Eau de Parfum
  • Cartier Le Heures de Cartier: L’ Heure Diaphane VIII
  • Faith Hill
  • Calvin Klein Euphoria Blossom
  • Louis Vuitton Attrape-Reves Eau de Parfum
  • Prada Candy Florale Eau de Toilette

These are highly recommended Peony perfumes, as the flower smell is both bold but not overwhelming. 


Peonies come in many shapes and sizes. Most Peonies smell good, but some varieties have a rotten, fishy smell like ammonia, and others have no scent. Thankfully, most are in high demand for their beautiful colors and bold, delicious fragrance. Unfortunately, as more and more species are hybridized, their lovely smells are starting to disappear.

The most fragrant Peony is the Philippe Rivoire and is described as smelling similar to roses. The Rafflesia genus group of Peonies release an odor that smells like rotting meat or decaying fish.

Generally, most Peonies are described as having a smell similar to roses, but more floral and clean, without the peppery notes.