With the arrival of cooler weather, many gardeners turn to fall chrysanthemums to provide color for the spots left vacant by tired summer annuals. That is appropriate as these beautiful flowers are the birth flower for November and recall the vibrant colors of autumn leaves.
“If you would be happy for a lifetime,
grow Chrysanthemums.” (Chinese philosopher)
Although they are more often associated with Japan, the chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th Century B.C. In fact, their pottery depicted the chrysanthemum much as we know it today. As an herb, it was believed to have the power of life. Legend has it that the boiled roots were used as a headache remedy; young sprouts and petals were eaten in salads; and leaves were brewed for a festive drink. The ancient Chinese name for chrysanthemum is “Chu.” The Chinese city of Chu-Hsien (which means Chrysanthemum City) was so named to honor the flower.
According to an ancient Chinese legend, about 3,000 years ago, an emperor was told that the Dragon-fly Island in the Sunrise Sea (Japan) had a magic herb that would restore his youth. But since only youth could collect it, he sent a dozen young men and a dozen girls to the island.
They arrived at the islands after surviving perilous storms and attacks by sea serpents and finding neither magic herb nor inhabitants on the island, they decided to stay. The prized possession they brought for trading, and now nurtured as a tie with their homeland, was the golden chrysanthemum.
Instantly, the blankets were shed, revealing a man in shining white clothing with a halo around his head. Proclaiming himself the Christ Child he fled. The next morning, outside the door where he had stood, were two white chrysanthemums. Today, many Germans bring white chrysanthemums into their homes on Christmas Eve, believing that by doing so they are sheltering the Christ Child.
Around the 8th century A.D., the chrysanthemum appeared in Japan. So taken were the Japanese with this flower that they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor. The chrysanthemum in the crest is a 16-floret variety called “Ichimonjiginu.” Family seals for prominent Japanese families also contain some type of chrysanthemum called a Kikumon – “Kiku” means chrysanthemum and “Mon” means crest. In Japan, the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest Order of Chivalry. Japan also has a National Chrysanthemum Day, which is called the Festival of Happiness.
The chrysanthemum was first introduced into the Western world during the 17th Century. In 1753 Karl Linnaeus, renowned Swedish botanist, combined the Greek words chrysos, meaning gold with anthemon, meaning flower. Linnaeus was the founder of that branch of taxonomy dealing with plants and including the science of classification and identification. Experts say this is probably an accurate description of the ancient species, as it also points out the mum’s need for sunlight. The earliest illustrations of mums show them as small, yellow daisy-like flowers.
Ancient growers would not recognize modern mums. Although some mums still resemble daisies, others are more showy. Regardless of the flower type, they all belong to the Composite, or daisy, family. In more recent times, growers within several countries began to propagate chrysanthemums. Hybridizers in England, France, Japan, and the United States have developed a wide range of floral colors, shapes, and sizes. Today, its colors include various shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, bronze or orange, and white. Some varieties have different colors between the disc and ray florets and some have ray florets that are bi-colored on the face and reverse sides.
Petals on chrysanthemums are actually florets, a small flower, usually part of a dense cluster, especially, one of the disk or ray flowers of a composite plant such as a daisy. The chrysanthemum flower has two types of florets – ray florets that would be called petals on a daisy, and disc florets that are the center florets in a daisy type of bloom. All classes of chrysanthemums have both types of florets, but in many of the classes, the disc florets are not apparent.
Since the chrysanthemum was first introduced into the United States during colonial times, its popularity has grown such that mums now reign as undisputed “Queen of the Fall Flowers.” For many of us, our introduction to the chrysanthemum was a corsage for the girlfriends and mothers at Homecoming football games. Mums remain the most widely grown potted plant in the country and are one of the longest lasting of all cut flowers. This latter attribute, along with their artistic allure, make mums highly favored by floral arrangers. In the United States, the chrysanthemum is the largest commercially produced flower due to its ease of cultivation, capability to bloom on schedule, diversity of bloom forms and colors, and holding quality of the blooms.
There are so many varieties of chrysanthemums today that a system of classification is used to categorize and identify them. The classification is based on the type of florets and their growth pattern. Some chrysanthemum cultivars can be trained into different forms. Bonsai cultivars can be trained, in one year, into miniature forms, such as trees, that will match the character of a lifetime effort on deciduous or evergreen plants or trees. Some cultivars can be trained into a hemispherical form or, with skill and patience, they can be trained to look like a dog, a table and chair, or the human form. Cascading cultivars can be grown either as long pendulous drapes of blooms or trained as large fans, pillars, or trees.
As a landscaping plant, the chrysanthemum makes a beautiful Fall display for the home garden. With skill and artistry, many varied effects can be achieved, even when only a small growing area is available. Chrysanthemums can accentuate an entrance way; provide the Fall colors to a season-long growing bed; or dominate a growing area with the many varied shapes, sizes, and colors. Used in this fashion, chrysanthemums provide an outstanding climax to the season before the colds of winter arrive.
As with all gardening efforts, it is not luck or the so-called green thumb that achieves results, but rather hard work and dirty fingernails. Still, mums are very easy to grow and even easier to enjoy!