Mum's the Word

Autumn chrysanthemums of beautiful color,
With dew in my clothes I pluck these flowers.
I float within wine to forget my sorrow,
To leave far behind thoughts of the world.
Alone, I pour myself a goblet of wine;
When the cup is empty, the pot pours for itself.
As the sun sets, all activities cease;
Homing birds, they hurry to the woods singing.
Haughtily, I whistle below the eastern balcony
I've found again the meaning of life.


From Poetry of Tao Qian

A Noble Past

The name chrysanthemum was coined by 18th-century Swedish scientist Linnaeus from the Greek language-—the words meaning "gold flower." Chrysanthemums do come in gold, also called bronze, but buyers today will also find them in white, purple, lavender, red, pink, yellow, magenta, and even green.

Grown in gardens for more than a millennium in China before its introduction to Europe, the flower has a special place in that country's culture. The flower is symbolic of nobility and was favored by the poet Tao Qian. The ancient Chinese named a city for it—Ju-Xian. Along with the bamboo, orchid, and plum flower, the chrysanthemum is considered one of "the four noble gentlemen" plants of China and is often a subject of art and poetry.

The flower was introduced to Japan in the 8th century. The emperor adopted it as his badge, and soon the phrase, "the Chrysanthemum Throne" was used to describe his seat of power. There is a yearly festival of happiness that celebrates the flower.

The joyfulness of the brilliantly colored blossoms is only one aspect of the flowers' cultural significance. In Korea and Japan, white chrysanthemums symbolize death; in China they symbolize grieving. Likewise in certain European countries such as Poland and France, white chrysanthemums are most often seen at funerals.

The Chinese weren't the only ones to find artistic inspiration in a spray of chrysanthemums. American author John Steinbeck wrote his short story, "The Chrysanthemums," tells of a farm woman's desire to experience something beyond the realm of her hardworking, everyday life.

Varieties Galore

The National Chrysanthemum Society has divided these flowers into 13 classes, based on how the petals present. Class 11, for example, is a type called the Spider. Their florets are long and tubular with ends that may hook or prong. They look much like an exploding firework. Class 6 is composed of the Pompons. Small, tight balls of florets do indeed closely resemble an ornamental pompon. Class 8, the Anemones, are commonly available in farmers' markets as are Class 4, the Decoratives.

A Flower with Many Uses

One variety of chrysanthemums, often called the garland chrysanthemum, has culinary uses. The delicate greens can be added to a stir-fry, and the lovely flowers are also edible. Chrysanthemum tea is made from the flower's buds of a particular species, Chrysanthemum morifolium or Chrysanthemum indicum. The tea is believed by traditional practitioners to be helpful in treating a variety of medical problems.

Recently, scientists at NASA have discovered that growing chrysanthemums can reduce indoor air pollution. Chrysanthemums are also grown to produce insecticide. Pyrethrins, the active components, are produced in the flowers' seed cases. This kind of insecticide is usually biodegradable and considered safer than some synthetic varieties.

Chrysanthemum Cultivation

So, you've succumbed to the temptation of easily adding brilliant color to your home by purchasing a pot or two or five from a local retailer. You've put them in prettier pots or massed them in mulch. But, once the season is over, what do you do with them?

Your mums will need to be moved indoors when there is danger of hard frost. Keep them protected in a cool, sunny place. They can be replanted in the ground come springtime when the danger of frost is gone. Mums like water as well as sunlight, but not too much. Wait until the soil is dry to a depth of two inches before watering. Hardy mums purchased in the fall can be planted outside in the spring, but it's really rolling the dice to try to plant them in the fall. There simply isn't enough time for them to establish themselves. When you plant, remember that they have shallow roots and should not be planted too deeply. A soapy water wash can help with insect infestations. If the plants do establish themselves well through the season and are truly hardy, they will still need protective mulch to help them survive the winter.

If you want to cultivate your own mums, bringing them into bloom yourself, you'll need to get started early next year. Think how lovely they would be for Easter, Passover, or Mother's Day. Pinch them back, and they should bloom again by fall. Most catalog suppliers will ship plants between March and June.

For additional information on the mysteries of chrysanthemum cultivation including lateral removal and disbudding, check King's Mums Growing Tips page.

More on Mums



The Growing and Marketing of Fall Mums: How You Can Turn Your Backyard into a Money-Making, Growing Machine! by Don Langevin
Feeling ambitious? This library book gives you the low-down on all sorts of chrysanthemums and much practical advice for starting a beautiful part-time business.


How to Multiply Your Chrysanthemums
Mums need to be divided every few years to keep them healthy. This article gives tips on how to do just that.


The National Chrysanthemum Society, USA
Information on classification and cultivation of mums. Check out their journal articles for more on history and varieties. They host an annual convention.


Old Dominion Chrysanthemum Society
ODCS is the local affiliate of the National Chrysanthemum Society. They host an annual show.


What Will Chrysanthemums Think of Next?
Tips for training chrysanthemums into lovely "trees."