Truth be told, i used to consider the Chrysanthemum somewhat of an old fashioned flower. I don't know what that notion was based on, but the flower never really appealed to me. That started to change when i accidentally mistook one for a Dahlia when i was at the florist a few weeks ago (not that uncommon, apparently). Another large bright yellow flower head ended up going home with me. And lo and behold: three weeks later, it's still standing! Add that to it being the official fall flower, and i decided to dive a little deeper into the Chrysanthemums origins, meaning and care advice.
(Not so) golden flower
The name 'Chrysanthemum' is a combination of the ancient Greek words 'Chrysos' (χρυσός), which means 'gold' and 'anthemom' (ἄνθεμον), which translates to 'flower'. So literally 'Golden Flower'. Although the original flower might have had a warm yellowish (golden) color, it now comes in a huge range of varieties and shades.
The gentleman of autumn
The Chrysanthemum is a herb, and cultivation has been recorded in ancient China as far back as the 15th century BC. The Chrysanthemum, or 'Pinyin' (菊花) was grown for the healing qualities of all parts of the plant, from the roots to the young sprouts, the petals and the leaves (more about the healing qualities of Chrysanthemum <here>). It became part of the 'four gentlemen', representing the four seasons: blossoming plum for winter, orchid for spring, bamboo for summer, and the chrysanthemum for autumn. Hundreds of poems are written about the flower and on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month each year, the Chrysanthemum plays a big part in the Chinese double ninth festival.
Flower of the Emperor
Around 800 AD the Japanese discovered the Chrysanthemum and fell so in love with the flower, their emperor decided to use it for his imperial seal. The chrysanthemum remains the symbol of the emperor to this day and the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest Order of Chivalry. National Chrysanthemum Day is celebrated in Japan on September 9th each year.
Woodblock print by Keika Hasegawa
Chrysanthemum LeMans 4
Although 500 Chrysanthemum cultivars were recorded in Asia as early as 1630, it took until 1753 for the chrysanthemum to be introduced to the Western world by renowned Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus, who gave the flower its western name. There are now more than 20.000 different Chrysanthemum cultivars ranging from small multi-headed daisies to large kings head blooms that the ancient growers probably wouldn't recognize.
A strong symbol
In some European countries (France and Belgium for example) chrysanthemum have been used as funeral flowers for years, symbolizing a respect for the death. At the same time the colorful flowers are considered positive and cheerful in the US (except in New Orleans). In Victorian floriography (the language of flowers) the red chrysanthemum stood for love, whereas the yellow chrysanthemum symbolized a love taken-for-granted and the white variety is used to communicate truth, loyalty and honesty.
bouquet fillers and showstoppers
Looking into the many available cultivars made me realize why i wasn't really into Chrysanthemum. The multi-headed small-bloomed variety that is often used as a bouquet filler is not a love of mine.
I am however a fan of the larger single-headed cultivars. And there are plenty to choose from! Focusing on the cultivars with one flower-head only, there are 6 main categories: Pompon, Double, Incurve, Mop Head, Single and Spider. I prefer the types where the full inner floret is hidden by petals, and especially the ones that are made of two colors. For some online inspiration, i found this list of gorgeous cultivars at Love 'n fresh flowers.
Less is more
We often used to see Chrysanthemums packed close together into an air-less bouquet, which i think is just a shame of the beautiful heads. Botanical science agrees with me here: As with many cut flowers, the Chrysanthemum will stay fresh much longer when their stems get room to breathe. With flowers this large and expressive there's really no need to cram a lot of them together anyway. A few will do just nicely.
So... once you found yourself some nice blooms, here's what you do:
Chrysanthemum bouquet set in a Flower Constellation
1. Use a clean vase with clean water and flower food 2. Take off (at least) the foliage below the water line (i usually only leave a leaf or two). 3. Cut about 2 inches off each stem in a 45 degree angle and place directly into the water (use a Flower Constellation if you like). 4. Ideally place the vase in a cool spot out of direct sunlight and sheltered from drafts. 5. Refresh the water every few days, slightly cutting the stem each time you do. Make sure to remove any wilting flowers.
With proper care chrysanthemum flowers can have a vase-life of up to 21 days. NB Chrysanthemum are not super sensitive to ethylene, but as with all cut flowers, keeping them away from ripening fruits will help them stay fresh for longer.
A little bonus: chrysanthemum petals are edible, so after enjoying them in a vase, the chrysanthemum flowers could be dried to make a tea to help with all kinds of ailments (more on how to make it <here>). That said, i wouldn't advice using a florist-bought chrysanthemum to brew tea from, you never no what might have been used to get rid of pests.
How sustainable are chrysanthemum?
Chrysanthemum can be bought year-round, but are in season in September, October and November, so best get them then.
In the Netherlands, the flowers are usually grown in glass houses, and more and more sustainable practices are surrounding the cultivation. Many growers have turned to using insects instead of pesticides, and ever more businesses use LED lighting in combination with self-generated green energy.
It is also quite possible to grow Chrysanthemum in your own garden. They come in both perennial as well as annual varieties and, as mentioned above, a galore of shapes, colors and sizes. That said: the varieties that are most sold in garden centres are usually that of the smaller bushy multi-headed kinds. The longer stemmed one-headed chrysanthemum sold as cut-flowers at florists can be slightly more tricky to grow.
It being such a tough flower means a bouquet can be enjoyed for up to three weeks, making chrysanthemum both a great sustainable and economical choice.
Added bonus: if you were to use the petals in some kind of tea, it would be an even more low-waste deal.