Thursday, 06 August 2020 14:47
By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden

I hate to be the one to say it but there are already signs of fall around.  The days are just a bit shorter, the nights are getting refreshingly cooler and the first of the hardy mums have started to arrive at the garden center. 

The many petal shapes and colors that chrysanthemums (mums to you, “kiku” to the Japanese) exhibit have made them a fall favorite for years….many, many years. When you decide to grow chrysanthemums, you become involved in a gardening pastime that spans many centuries.

History traces the origin of chrysanthemum culture to Imperial China over 3,000 years ago.  Chrysanthemums were highly prized by the emperors of China who considered them to be more valuable than gold.  The Japanese also revere the chrysanthemum.  In fact, the origin of Japanese culture is wrapped in chrysanthemum legend.

It seems that one of the early emperors of China became quite ill.  In his quest for a remedy he learned of the “herb of youth” that would restore his health.  The search for the “herb of youth” was entrusted to twelve male and twelve female virgins.  They sailed out onto the Pacific Ocean with a bamboo basket filled with the emperor’s beloved “golden daisies” to trade for the “herb of youth.”

They didn’t make it too far before the quest was ended by a typhoon that left them shipwrecked on a rocky archipelago.  With their journey at an end, the survivors planted the revered mums and set about exploring their new home.  Over the years, the survivors’ descendants populated the islands we now know as Japan.  Their reverence for chrysanthemums continued and they were eventually considered the exclusive property of their emperor.  In 910 AD, the Japanese Emperor displayed his prized plants at the first Imperial Chrysanthemum Show and declared them to be the national flower of Japan.  In 1876, another Japanese emperor created the Order of the Chrysanthemum as the highest honor he could bestow on an individual.  The Japanese word “kiku” represents both the chrysanthemum and the office of the emperor.  The royal crest is a traditional sixteen-petal chrysanthemum design.

European interest in Chrysanthemums budded with the arrival of plants brought back from the orient by Dutch traders in the early eighteenth century.  The Dutch are known to have produced several new varieties from the original plants, but it was the horticulturally adept French Huguenots that are credited with real improvements in flower size and color.  The Huguenots developed “Old Purple” which became a favorite all over the continent.

Chrysanthemums came to North America in 1798 in the hands of John Stevens, a nurseryman from Hoboken.  By 1850 the Chrysanthemum society of America had been founded and they held their first show in 1902 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Since then, hundreds of new colors and forms have been developed which has only added to their popularity.  They are hard to resist.  Remember, the earlier you get them planted, the better the root system they’ll have established before winter arrives.   

Thanks for the read!

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