Nothing quite conjures up images of fall like a fresh planting of Chrysanthemums. Geraniums and Begonias might rule the summer garden, but mums remain the queen of fall blooming plants. Chrysanthemums have been culturally significant throughout the United States and Asia for centuries. From ancient emperors to homecoming queens, it seems everyone has held this fall flower in high regards.
Texans in the early 1930’s created a very unique football tradition involving these cushiony beauties. I spent a few months in Allen, Texas during high school, and I was completely flabbergasted when I arrived at my first football game to see hundreds of teenage girls wearing large ribbon flowers glued to their shirts. Now, after noticing that the school mascot was an eagle, I was having serious difficulty figuring out why these fake flowers were so popular. I later found out that these corsages were called football mums and that they can be a sign of social status or team spirit. Guys generally give football mums to their girlfriends, and the girls wear them pinned to their blouse. In return, women are expected to give a garter, which is a smaller version of the football mum that is worn on the arm. Although the modern football mums only vaguely resemble flowers (they’re normally silk and loaded with ribbons, streamers, and the like), traditional football mums were actual flowers. Certain varieties of Chrysanthemum can be very large, and they hold value in the American floral industry for their long life as a cut flower.
Asia has a totally different outlook on Chrysanthemums. In China, Chrysanthemums are legendary. As the story goes, an elderly emperor sent twenty-four children on a dangerous journey to a faraway island. It was said that the island contained a rare flower that would provide eternal life if picked by children. When the children arrived at the island, all they found were golden Chrysanthemums. Needless to say, the emperor did not find eternal life, but he did like the flower so much that it became a national symbol of nobility and elegance. Today mums can be found on the 1 yuan coin used throughout China.
Mums reached the shores of Japan in the 8th century, where it was also adopted as a national symbol. These flowers were seen as a symbol of longevity and good fortune and are found on the crests of many noble families. In fact, the highest order of knighthood the Emperor could award was the “Supreme order of the Chrysanthemum.” This title was rarely bestowed upon anyone who was not of royal blood. By the 9th century new types of chrysanthemums were being bred in the imperial gardens. Japan also celebrates National Chrysanthemum Day, also known as the festival of happiness. Mums are referred to as one of the Four Gentlemen plants thoughout Asia. These plants represent the four seasons. Among these are Orchids (spring), Bamboo (summer), Chrysanthemum (autumn), and Plum blossom (winter).
Not everyone sees mums in such a positive light. Europeans consider mums to be the flower of death. European florists use Chrysanthemums in funeral arrangements since they are reliable and long lasting bloomers. This tradition has led to a negative association with the flower.
If you are tired of seeing Chrysanthemums and want to see them in a totally new light, check out Longwood Gardens this fall as they have the largest Ozukuri Chrysanthemum in North America. The plant is 11 feet wide and has over 990 blooms. Unfortunately this plant is dwarfed by Japans largest Ozukuri Chrysanthemum which has over 2,220 blooms. We only have a few mums lining Bridget’s Garden around the playground, but I hope you’re reminded of cooler weather to come next time you take a walk by.