Chrysanthemum (Mums)

The name Chrysanthemum is derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthos (flower). Genus Chrsanthemum is from the family of Asteraceae .  There   are approximately thirty species of perennial flowering plants in the family Asteraceae which is native to Asia and NE Europe.

A brief history of the Chrysanthemum:

Going as far back as the 15th Century B.C., chrysanthemums have been cultivated in China; though at the start they were only used as a flowering herb.  The plant is renowned as one of the “Four Gentlemen” in Chinese and East Asian art, the others being the plum blossom, the orchid, and bamboo.  The chrysanthemum, also a symbol of nobility, is believed to have been favoured by the famous Chinese poet Tao Qian. Chrysanthemums are especially significant during the “Double Ninth Festival”.  In the movie “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2006), the “golden flower” is none other than a chrysanthemum.

Sometime in the 8th Century, it is believed that the flower may have been brought to Japan and the ruling Emperor of that time, taking a liking to it, adopted the flower as his official seal.  The Chrysanthemum Throne was the name attached to the position of Emperor of Japan.  The Chrysanthemum Crest is the usual term for a mon of chrysanthemum blossom design, with 150 or more different patterns. The notable pattern of the Imperial Seal of Japan is used by the members of the Japanese Imperial family.   Several state-owned shrines in Japan, most notably Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, have also adopted the Chrysanthemum Crest.  The Supreme “Order of the Chrysanthemum” is a Japanese honour awarded by the Emperor.  In Imperial Japan, small arms were required to be stamped with the Imperial Chrysanthemum as they were deemed the personal property of the Emperor.  Meanwhile to the delight of citizens and visitors alike, on every autumn, within the city of Nihonmatsu, in the historical ruins of Nihonmatsu Castle, Japan has been hosting the famed “Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Dolls Exhibition”.  In the well known “Festival of Happiness” Japan continues to celebrate this flower.  Imagine; so many honours being heaped on a particular genus of flower.

On the negative side, the white chrysanthemum is considered to be the representation of lamentation and or grief in China, Japan and Korea.

It took until the 17th Century for chrysanthemum to be introduced to Europe.  In some countries chrysanthemums represents honesty but, sadly, the chrysanthemum in Europe (as in Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary and Croatia) is mostly considered to be the symbol of death and so is only used for funerals or on graves.  Who knows; it may be that increasing Eastern influence will change all that.

The chrysanthemum fared better in Australia and the United States (with the exception of New Orleans which adopted the French traditions) for the flower is generally regarded as a cheerful, positive thing.   In 1961 chrysanthemums were recognized as the official flower of the city of Chicago and it is also the official flower of the city of Salinas, California.  The yellow chrysanthemum is the official flower of Sigma Alpha, a professional Agricultural sorority. The chrysanthemum is the flower of the American musician’s fraternity “Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia”.  For a while now in Australia chrysanthemums have enjoyed the privilege of being the choice of flower given to mothers on “Mother’s day”, perhaps because it is in bloom during their autumn season.

We all love chrysanthemums, especially since the present day chrysanthemums are so magnificent, far showier than their ancestral wild cousins.  The flower occurs in various forms: they can be pompous, decorative, daisy-like, or buttons.

Chrysanthemums are generally of two basic groups: The Garden Hardy variety and the Exhibition variety.

The Garden hardy mum are new perennials and as the name suggests, are a sturdy bunch, capable of being wintered over in the ground in most Northern latitudes.  They are capable of producing an abundance of small blooms with the least assistance and are able to withstand adverse weather conditions such as wind and rain. .

The Exhibition varieties, though spectacular, are considered to be frail and need a lot of painstaking care. However the resulting disbudded blooms and spray forms such as Fans, Hanging Baskets, Topiary, Bonsai, Thousand Bloom and Cascades, to name a few,  make the effort all worthwhile.

The United States National Chrysanthemum Society, Inc. has divided chrysanthemum blooms into 13 different bloom forms.  The blooms are composed of many individual flowers (florets), each one capable of producing a seed.  The disk florets are in the center of the bloom head, and the ray florets are on the perimeter.  The disk florets are considered perfect flowers as they posses both male and female reproductive organs. The Ray florets on the other hand are considered imperfect flowers, as they only possess the female reproductive organs.

Here are the 13 different bloom forms:

  1. Irregular Incurve: They are huge.  Often they are disbudded to create a single giant bloom (ogiku), the disk florets are completely hidden, while the ray florets curve inwardly to hide the disk and also hang down to create a ‘skirt’.
  2. Reflex: The disk florets are concealed and the ray florets reflex outwards to create a mop like appearance.
  3. Regular Incurve:  They are like the irregular incurves, only they have smaller blooms, with almost perfect spherical form.  Disk florets are completely concealed.
  4. Decorative: they are like the reflex blooms without the mop like appearance. Disk florets are completely hidden, ray florets usually don’t radiate at more than a 90 degree angle to the stem.
  5. Intermediate Incurve:  Like the name suggests these blooms are amid the Irregular and Regular incurves in both shape and the size. They usually have broader florets and more loosely poised bloom.  The disk florets are again totally hidden.
  6. Pompon: the blooms though small size, are fully double and totally spherical (round).
  7. Single/Semi-Double: These blooms have totally exposed (uncovered) disk florets, with between 1 and 7 rows of ray florets, usually radiating at not more than 90 degree angle to the stem.
  8. Anemone: The disk florets are significantly highlighted, quite often raised and overwhelming the ray florets.
  9. Spoon: The disk florets are evident and the long tubular ray florets are like spoons.
  10. Quill: The disk florets are utterly hidden, and the ray florets resemble hose (tube).
  11. Spider: The disk florets are again hidden, and the ray florets are pipe like with snide or pointed ends, hanging droopily around the stem.
  12. Brush and Thistle: The disk florets may be obvious. The ray florets are often tube like, and future all around the flower head, or shoot (project) parallel to the stem.
  13. Exotic:  The name tells all for they have the combined characteristics the qualities of several of the other twelve types of blooms.

Aside from decorating our homes and gardens, chrysanthemum flowers have a culinary function.   The chrysanthemum leaves are often boiled or steamed and served as a side dish of greens in Chinese cuisine.  Sometimes the petals of chrysanthemum are mixed with thick snake meat to augment a soup’s aroma.  The white and yellow flowers of the species C. morifolium are boiled to make tea, known as the “chrysanthemum tea” in many parts of Asia.  The chrysanthemum tea is accredited with many medicinal usages including aiding one’s recovery from influenza.  In Korea, Gukhawaju is a rice wine flavoured with chrysanthemum flowers.

Did you know that the Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium) can be used as a natural source of insecticide? The pulverized flowers contain the active ingredient pyrethrins, found in the seed cases, once these are extracted, they can then be sold in the form of an oleoresin.  Applied in the form of a powder or as a suspension in oil or water, the Pyrethrins attack the nervous system of all types of insects and also serve to inhibit the female mosquitoes from biting.  In lesser dosage, they can be an effective insect repellent.  Keep in mind though that they are harmful to fish, but less toxic to mammals and birds than many synthetic insecticides, except in consumer airborne backyard applications. They are considered to be safest insecticides for use around food and being biodegradable when exposed to light, they are also considered to be an eco-friendly product.

Finally, Chrysanthemum plants are known to reduce indoor air pollution.

The End



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