November Birthflower: Chrysanthemum

COMMON NAME: chrysanthemum
GENUS: Chrysanthemum
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
The garden chrysanthemum,
C. morifolium, is a hybrid developed from four species native to Asia. Many cultivars have been developed from this one, differing in size, shape, type of flowering head, growth habit, color, and time of bloom.
FAMILY: Compositae
BLOOMS: Fall
TYPE: perennial
DESCRIPTION: The many classes of chrysanthemum include pompon, quill, spider, brush, thistle, single, in-curve, and spoon. These classes are based on the physical characteristics of the flowering head.
CULTIVATION: Small chrysanthemum plants can be purchased in spring, set in the garden or holding bed throughout the summer, and then put on display beginning in early fall. The plants develop very shallow root systems so they can be transplanted easily in late summer with few problems.
Conscientious pruning during early summer will result in bushy plants with numerous flowers. Pinch back new plants when they are 6 inches tall, and continue to pinch back the flowering stems until ninety days before they bloom.
Chrysanthemums are heavy feeders. They will benefit from weekly applications of a liquid manure or biweekly applications of a quickly soluble fertilizer. Continue to fertilize them until the buds begin to show color.
Chrysanthemums are very ancient plants, as supported by the fact that Confucius wrote of them in 500 B.C. The ancient Chinese botanist T’ao Ming-yang developed many new strains of chrysanthemums so beautiful that people came from great distances to view them. Soon his village became known as Chuh-sien, or the city of chrysanthemums.
Chrysanthemums were always great favorites of the noble class, and in China, up until a relatively short time ago, common folk were not allowed to grow them in their gardens.
Records show that chrysanthemum seeds came to Japan by way of Korea in the fourth century. In A.D. 910 Japan held its first Imperial Chrysanthemum Show and declared this the national flower.
Claire Haughton in her book Green Immigrants tells the following legend of how the chrysanthemum came to Japan: The Empire of Japan was born when a shipload of twelve maidens and twelve young men from China set out to find the “herb of youth,” which kept people eternally young. They carried baskets of chrysanthemums to trade for this herb. After many weeks at sea, their shipwrecked near an uninhabited island. They swam to shore, planted the chrysanthemums, and settled down to build an empire. Japan’s imperial coat of arms shows a sixteen-petaled golden chrysanthemum.
Chrysanthemums were first introduced to Europe in 1688, and their reception there was not enthusiastic. They were essentially ignored for many years by most European gardeners, despite the fact that records from the 1700’s indicate the Dutch were growing at least six species. In 1843 the Royal Horticultural Society sent Robert Fortune to China to obtain the hardy autumn-flowering chrysanthemums, and this seems to have triggered great interest. By the mid-1800’s their popularity had been established. Particularly popular in France were the small, rounded varieties, which were called pompons because of their similarity to the small, wool pompons found on soldier’s hats.
Chrysanthemums were introduced to the United States in 1798, and by 1850 many nurseries were carrying as many as forty varieties. In 1900 the Chrysanthemum Society of America was established, and they staged their first exhibit in 1902 in Chicago.
The genus name is from two descriptive Latin words, meaning “yellow” and “flower.” These flowers make a very good dye.
In the Victorian language of flowers, this plant means cheerfulness and optimism. The Chinese consider it a sign of rest and ease, and the Japanese take it as a sign of long life and happiness. According to the Japanese floral calendar, it is the flower of September. The English calendar claims it for November.
Chrysanthemum petals are quite tasty and are particularly good added to cream soups or various salads {including green, fruit, or chicken}. Blanch the petals for several seconds before using them, but don’t cook them too long as this makes them bitter.
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