Chrysanthemums, commonly referred to as mums, have become the go-to flower for front porch decor during the summer and fall season. You can see them adorning doorways and front steps across America. They are hardy, colorful flowers that are easy to care for.
The Meaning of Chrysanthemums
A Swedish botanist named the chrysanthemum from the Greek words chrysos, meaning gold, and anthemon, meaning flower. The etymology carries over from its Asian origin. The word for chrysanthemum in both Chinese and Japanese is equivalent to gold flower. While the meaning behind the flower’s name translates across cultures, the symbolism does not. From ancient Asian cultures to modern-day America, the chrysanthemum has signified everything from life to death.
Meanings in different cultures:
- In China, the flower is one of the “Four Gentlemen” (四君子) of China, a prestigious group of plants which commonly signify the changing seasons.
- The chrysanthemum became associated with death rather than life in European cultures because of its prevalent use as gravesite decoration.
- In the U.S. it has grown in popularity since its introduction in the colonial period. It is now commonly referred to as “the Queen of fall flowers”.
- In Australia, the chrysanthemum is gifted to “mums” (moms) on Mother’s Day.
- The mum is the November birth flower.
The History of Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums have a strong association with Eastern culture because they were first cultivated in China. Pottery dating back to the 15th century BC depicts the flower as we know it today. Respect for this flower ran so deep, a city was named after it: Chu-Hsien, or Chrysanthemum City. In ancient China, almost all parts of the chrysanthemum had medicinal use. The roots were boiled for pain relief, the petals were eaten and the leaves were brewed to create a ceremonial drink. Legend has it the flower possessed the power of life.
When the chrysanthemum made its way to Japan around the eighth century AD, its reputation flourished much like it did in China. The emperor adopted a single chrysanthemum as his crest and official seal. Family seals for prominent Japanese families still often contain a chrysanthemum varietal. National Chrysanthemum Day, celebrated in Japan since 910 AD, is one of the five sacred festivals of Japan.
It wasn’t until much later in the 17th century that the flower was introduced to the Western world where its symbolism took a more foreboding turn. Chrysanthemums were often placed on gravestones and became associated with death.
Today, the chrysanthemum is once again beloved for its late blooming season and rich colors. In America, you are likely to see chrysanthemums in homecoming corsages and adorning porches and balconies from August to November.