All along my street this fall I notice gardens blooming with sedum, tall grasses, Zinnias, roses and then of course there are the hardy Chrysanthemums. Now that the extreme heat and humidity of summer has passed, leaving much more pleasant weather for us to enjoy, it is as if the plants recognize it as well. Fall flower gardens are amazing!
Chrysanthemums, or mums to most gardeners, have been on my mind lately as pots of them are everywhere you look. Whether it is a local mall garden centre, a nursery, hardware mega store or even a small local department store, there are racks of their brightly coloured blooms.
Recently I rode my bicycle past yet another garden where they were bursting in to bloom, and realized how little I know about this well know and lovely fall plant? Just where did these mums come from originally and how did they end up on in our gardens?
Years ago I regularly watched a show on HGTV called Flower Power that explored these and many more questions. In each episode the host, who was and still is a well known garden expert, would present a synopsis on a different flower. I also enjoyed the photography of the plant’s country of origin as well as its many varieties.
While I am not an expert, with many gardening resource books and the internet at my finger tips investigation should be a breeze. Perhaps now is the time for another plant adventure, inspired by many gardens this time, not just my own.
Chrysanthemums or mums are herbaceous perennial flowering plants that are native to Asia and northeastern Europe. They are related to marigolds, zinnias, dahlias and sunflowers, by being from the same family Asteracea. Originally cultivated in China as a flowering herb, as early as the 15th century B.C, it is believed the early forms were Chrysanthemum Sinese and Chrysanthemum Indictum. In addition to a wide variety of uses the blooms were incorporated in to their artwork and are still to this day.
While I was unable to determine the range of this flower and its spread, records say the flower was brought to Japan sometime in the 8th century. There it took on as equally prestigious status as in China, by becoming an important symbols used widely in festivals, and artwork. In fact, they were embraced by the Emperor as his official seal in the 12th century and it remains even now a symbol of the Japanese Imperial Family. In addition, during the 18th century Japan created the Grand Order of the Badge of the Chrysanthemums.
The name Chrysanthemum was given to this plant genus in the 17th Century with its spread throughout Europe, by the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus. Linneaus is considered to be the father of modern plant classification. The name Chrysanthemum is derived from the Greek word Chrynos which means “gold” and the word Anthemon which means” flower”. The original flowers were small, yellow blooms,as shown above but exploration eventually revealed about thirty species that were documented.
Chrysanthemums extended through Europe and to North America. In 1846 the Stoke Newington Chrysanthemum Society was formed, becoming the National Chrysanthemum Society in 1884. In addition to meetings etc, they held three shows yearly at the Royal Aquarium in London until 1902 and then at the Crystal Palace. Despite interest in the Chrysanthemum in North America, I found no information on society’s formation until the 1940’s
The many varieties, colours etc. are vast, to an ordinary gardener these plants are separated in to two groups, the exhibition plants grown primarily for floral arrangements and the hardy plants grown by gardeners across Canada. The plants range in height from about 15 cm to 150 cm with deeply lobed leaves.
The flowers have been classified internationally in to 13 different bloom forms including daisy-like, pom-pom, spiders and the more traditional garden variety of single and double blossoms. The more exotic and taller varieties require more stringent conditions of temperature and care, including staking due to their height. Generally these are commercially raised to show off in florist bouquets and for Chrysanthemum enthusiasts up to the challenge.
Mums primarily bloom in lovely shades of bronze, lavender, white, pink, purple red and yellow. Of course, as new hybrids are developed, the variety of sizes, blooms, shapes and colours grow.
The chrysanthemums are the second most popular flower sold after the Rose. With thousands of cultivars in different colours, heights petal size and formation there is something for everyone. The garden hardy mums survive in zones 3-9, produce lots of small blooms and require no staking. The exhibition varieties are grown primarily by collectors and for the Florist industry, requiring much more detailed care.
The variety of colours, hardiness even of individual flowers from the small pom-pom to the larger exotics is one of the reasons this flowering plant is so popular. Once cut, the chrysanthemum flowers have an excellent survival time which makes them an excellent choice for all types of flower arrangement. In fact mums are often the flower of choice for sculptural elements in flower shows for example.
Both the leaves and flowers are used for seasoning in several ways throughout the world. Flowers are used in many Asian countries to make tea, flavour rice wine and to add aroma to soup. Tiny flowers are also used as a garnish and the leaves are boiled and eaten as greens.
If you use environmentally safe insecticides, you may have seen the word Pyrethrin on the label. Pyrethrin, from crushed Chrysanthemum seed, is an organic compound used in a liquid, oil or powder form, as an insecticide. Specific to the nervous system of insects, this compound kills or repels most plant insects, while being far less toxic to birds and mammals than many synthetic insecticides.
While we all know mums as well as all flowering plants brighten up both gardens and any room they are placed in, NASA took things one step further. They included this plant in their Clean Air Study and determined Chrysanthemums were one of the top 10 plants most effective in removing Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Carbon Monoxide from the air inside a building.
Alternative medicine maintains there are many medicinal health benefits from the Chrysanthemum, especially when steeped in to a tea. Traditional Chinese medicine promotes the tea as a great way to prevent sore throats and fevers of a cold and to lessen the symptoms when you have a cold. In Korea they use it as a stimulant to keep you awake, while Western holistic and herbal medicine touts the tea as a treatment for atherosclerosis and varicose veins.
Externally the steeped flowers are squeezed to remove excess water and then used as a compress to treat a variety of eye ailments such as dry or itchy eyes, blurry or diminished vision as well as the reducing the inflammation of acne.
While studies have shown some effectiveness to these treatments, more data is needed for most traditional medicine doctors. In addition, adverse reactions to consuming and even handling chrysanthemums have been recorded. Symptoms range from upset stomachs to skin rashes, while the vast majority of people have no reaction what so ever.
Summing up the centuries of history, lineage, usage and beauty of Chrysanthemums really is impossible, therefore I won’t attempt to. Instead I’m going to fill my car up with beautiful mums and take them home. Then no matter where I sit in my garden their lovely blooms will brighten my day…and I can imagine a Buddhist monk watering his plants generations ago, on a sunny porch in Tibet!