The Rich History of Chrysanthemums


Did you know that those lush, colorful blooms called chrysanthemums are rooted in beliefs of human immortality and perfection? Today the "mum" graces gardens, cut flower arrangements and even salads (yes mums taste great), but they were taken much more seriously after T'ao Yuan Ming started it all in China around 500 A.D.

Over long periods of careful cross-pollination and selection, he developed stunning varieties of the flower and when he died, his birthplace was renamed Chuhsien. The City of Chrysanthemums. His efforts had produced a legacy that would bring pleasure to this world for centuries.

When China imported the first chrysanthemums to Japan, the people there bestowed many honors upon them. The Japanese wrote legends. To sip dew from the petals meant long life. To eat the flower meant immortality. Philosophers said that the systematic opening of the "ray" flowers symbolized both the sun and the perfection of orderly life.

By 800 A.D. the chrysanthemum had become so prestigious that only royal and noble families were permitted to cultivate it. Among the highest honors that could be bestowed in Japan was admittance to the Order of the Chrysanthemum... a reward granted to nobility for service to the Emperor.

In great contrast to this, the "mum" didn't make much of an impression when traders introduced it to Europe in the 1600s. But when in finally did catch on, it became one of the most popular blooms for both flower shops and gardens.

Today the mum comes in dozens of varieties. Fuji mums project rays with curly ends. Spider mums have straight-ended rays. Starburst mums have forked ends, while spoon-ended mums have a loop at the end of their rays. China mums are called "standard" and "football" because of their large, round heads. Daisy-like mums are called pompons. And those forming tight little balls are called button pomps.

Whether associated with spoons, forks or footballs, or with royalty or immortality, "mum" is the word for beautiful gardens and long-lasting floral arrangements. When you care for them as cut flowers, try to keep their ancient beauty away from such modern-day contraptions as air conditioning, TV sets and heaters. Don't place them in drafts or direct sunlight. Do watch their water, and replace it when needed. This way, a bouquet of mums can make your day every day for at least a week, maybe two.

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