Japanese culture considers the chrysanthemum a symbol of the Sun. They see the unfolding petals as representatives of perfection. Some claim a petal at the bottom of a wine glass encourages a long life. Confucius used them as subjects of meditation.
Chrysanthemums are really a large family of flowering plants that are native to China. They have their own botanical genus by the same name. I don’t think anyone has made a full scientific census of chrysanthemum varieties and cultivars. The flowers range from their ancient daisy-like appearance with a yellow center to fluffy looking pompom cluster blooms.
The first recorded cultivation as a domestic plant goes back to the late 1400s BCE. By the 1600s CE, more than 500 cultivars were known to exist. Legend has it that chrysanthemums became a cultural icon in Japan in the 700s CE. As a matter of fact, the chrysanthemum is integrated into the Emperor’s official royal seal. The Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest rank of Japanese chivalry.
The first recorded European appearance of chrysanthemums was around 1750. The reknowned Swedish botanist, Karl Linnaeus, coined the western name of the flowers. Linnaeus combined the Greek name “chrysos” for gold, with “anthemon” for flower. He categorized them into the Asteraceae or daisy family. The chrysanthemums that Linnaus studied were the little, yellow daisy-shaped blooms.
After their appearance in Europe, mums were introduced to England. From England the flowers were taken to the British Colonies in North America. Since their arrival in the Americas, chrysanthemums have been cultivated and new cultivars have been developed. Chrysanthemums are now the most widely grown potted plant in the US.
The fact that there are so many varieties of mums and that they have a very long shelf life makes them a favorite of flower arrangers and florists. Mums number as the most commercially grown flower because of its ease of cultivation; diversity of color and shape; the ability to bloom on schedule; and the staying power of the florets. Chrysanthemums are also the most popular flower in home gardens.
Some of the most interesting chrysanthemum cultivars can be trained, like a Bonsai, into different forms. Many appear as hemispheres or shapes like animals, humans, or furniture. At some flower shows, long, draperies of blooms are on display, often large tree-like cultivars are shown. Other dramatic shapes like pillars and fans are the results of patient training.
The next flower you see today, might very well be a cultivar of the chrysanthemum genus.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has a thought from Francis Bacon:
“Natural abilities are like natural plants,
that need pruning by study; and studies themselves
do give forth directions too much at large,
except they be bounded in by experience.”