The Mythical Mum

Kari Martin, Anoka County Master Gardener


The mythical mum, the stalwart fall flower that fills the garden centers as the leaves start to change has not so humble beginnings. First cultivated in China as early as the 15th century, it quickly came to embody long life and good luck. Grown for a variety of uses, from herbal remedies to alleviate headaches to a staple in dishes throughout the region, this flower even earned the honor of being the namesake for Chu-Hsien, translated as Chrysanthemum City. Migrating to Japan with Buddhist monks in AD 400, this lovely flower became the symbol of the emperor, appearing on the official crest and seal, adopting the local name Kiku. Even today the highest Japanese military honor is the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum. The journey continued, perhaps via the fabled Silk Road, arriving in Europe around the 17th century where it was given its full name chrysanthemum, derived from the Greek word “chyrs” meaning gold and “anthemon” meaning flower. Victorians embraced the flower as a representation of friendship and sent bouquets in abundance to carry well-wishes to family and friends, using it to honor gravestones due to its long blooming tendencies.

This lovely flower has stood the test of time, adopting the well-loved nickname “mum”. In the United States it is the largest commercially produced flower and it packs a secret punch. In the petals is a naturally occurring toxin that paralyzes insects, pyrethrum, which is used in several present-day insecticides. The flower is the official flower for November and many color varieties exist to tempt your pallet. Most commonly sold as annuals, there are several types of blooms to choose. Select from the single bloom, full and perfectly rounded to showcase the color of your choice, the brilliant reds and yellows, to soft white and pinks. Quilled and spider blooms offer unique shoots, either straight or curled. Pompoms are just like the name suggests, having circulating petals around a central disk, spoon or decorative rounding out. There are so many options for any taste.

If you are desiring a perennial version that can outlast the deep chill, two favorite varieties are the Firecracker Series (botanical nameChrysanthemum x morifolium) Power Surge® and the Mammoth series, developed in Minnesota, that is a cross between C. x morifolium hybrids and the hardy C. weyrichii. Power Surge® is a compact red plant with full red double blooms that starts blooming in early September and continues for 8 weeks or so. Mammoth™ ‘Red Daisy’ is a semi-double red with a yellow center, a stunning example of what this versatile flower can be. These plants grow slowly and are taller than some, making them a good addition to the back of the flower bed. Next time you are thinking of going to pick out a flower at your local nursery, don’t miss out on this beautiful gem.

Save the date for April 4, 2020. Anoka County Master Gardeners host the Home Landscaping & Garden Fair at the Bunker Hills Activities Center, 550 Bunker Lake Blvd NW, Andover, MN 55304. If you are having trouble registering online please call 612-301-1210.