These hugely popular autumn flowers have plenty of symbolism and history you probably didn't know about.

By Andrea Beck
August 21, 2020
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One of the things I look forward to most in autumn is seeing beautiful blooming chrysanthemums wherever I go. Even on a walk around the neighborhood or quick trip to the grocery store, I always see tons of yellow, orange, and deep red mums brightening up the scenery. And once I set out a few pots of mums of my own, then it feels like it's officially fall. Even if you, too, have been growing and loving this plant for years, it has a long, rich history that you might not know about. Keep these fun facts in mind as you’re picking out and planting your fall mums this year!

Carson Downing

1. Mums Were First Grown in China

Chrysanthemums have been around for a long time; they were originally cultivated in China, and were first recorded in writing in the 15th century BC (over 3,000 years ago). It was believed to have medicinal properties as an herb; for example, the boiled roots were used as a cure for headaches. It’s also one of the four noble plants in Chinese culture, along with plum blossoms, orchids, and bamboo. All four plants are widely used in ancient paintings and poems, and are thought to represent the four seasons, and also human virtues (with chrysanthemums representing fall and nobility).

2. Chrysanthemums Have Many Different Meanings

Depending on where you are in the world, mums’ symbolism can be completely different. In some parts of the world, including most parts of the United States, chrysanthemums are associated with joy and optimism. Chrysanthemums are hugely symbolic in Japan (the flower has been used as the crest of the emperor for over 1,200 years), and they celebrate a National Chrysanthemum Day every year on September 9 that’s also known as the festival of happiness. However, in many European countries, including France, Belgium, and Spain, chrysanthemums are associated with death and are often given at funerals or placed on graves to honor the dead.

This spider type mum cultivar called ‘Lava’ resembles a firework caught mid burst.
Brie Williams

3. There Are Thousands of Varieties

The name “chrysanthemum” comes from two Greek words; “chrysos,” which means “gold,” and “anthemon” for flower. But though gold is a common, popular color for mums, it’s far from your only option. There are thousands of varieties, and mums can be yellow, red, orange, white, pink, and purple. You can also find plenty of different flower forms; while button mums are one of the most common, you can find anemone, quilled, spider, spoon, and pompon varieties.

4. Mums Are Edible

Chrysanthemum tea is a popular drink brewed with the flowers from the plant. It’s especially popular in China, and is made with the dried flower heads. However, the leaves are also edible, and can be added to salads or cooked like other greens. But don’t start plucking your plant for kitchen ingredients; if you want to try chrysanthemum tea or leaves, it’s best to look for edible leaves or a tea mix at a local Asian market so you know that the plants haven’t been treated with any pesticides or chemicals that would make them unsafe to eat.

Bob Stefko

5. Chemicals from the Plant Are Used in Insecticides

You might’ve heard before that chrysanthemums can repel pesky insects such as mosquitoes. Unfortunately, just planting a couple of mums won’t free you of mosquitoes, but oil extracted from the flowers of certain chrysanthemum species has been used in insecticides for centuries. Look for pyrethrum in the list of ingredients on your bug spray; it’s one of the most popular ingredients in natural insect repellents.

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