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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mums The Word

Posted by R. Ann Siracusa

MUMS THE WORD for everyone born in November. The chrysanthemum, your birth flower, is a member of the Aster family, closely related to the daisy. It is also the flower for the 13th wedding anniversary.

Most species of this autumn blooming plant originated in East Asia and Northeastern Europe. The name is derived from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthenmon or anthemion (flower).


The Chrysanthemum has been cultivated in China for 3,000 years and Japan for 1,000 years. The blossoms were used to brew a rejuvenating tea and making incense. The petals were also used as an all purpose treatment for everything including hypertension and the common cold.

The original varieties were yellow, but now there are over a hundred varieties in 13 classes based of the form of the flower, and almost every color. 

Mums are simple to grow and can be started from cuttings. However, they require more than 11 to 12 hours of darkness per night to produce flowers and need their new shoots pinched back in order for them to develop bushy forms. That's the origin of the saying "Nipping in the bud".


The Chinese Legend - How Chrysanthemums Got To Japan

The Chinese legend references an emperor (about 3,000 years ago) who learned that Dragon-fly Island in the Sunrise Sea (Japan) possessed a magic herb to restore youth, but it could only be collected by young people. He sent a dozen young men and a dozen young women loaded with golden chrysanthemum to barter with the natives of the island for the magical herb.

They endured many hardships but finally arrived at the island, where they found neither the herb nor any inhabitants to barter with. They decided to stay and planted the chrysanthemum as a tie to their homeland.

I presume the emperor got old and died.

The Japanese Legend - How Chrysanthemums Got To Japan

The Japanese see it differently. According to Japanese legend, there were so many gods in heaven that some, including the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami, were sent to the earth where the goddess created the gods of the winds, mountains, sea, and others. She died in the process of creating the god of fire. Izanagi missed her so much that he followed her to the place of Black Night. There Izanagi saw vile sites and was pursued by the Old Hag of Black Night.

He escaped back to earth and went at once to the river for purification. As he undressed, his clothes touched the ground and turned into twelve gods. The jewels on the clothes became flowers—iris, lotus, and chrysanthemum.

Why Chrysanthemum Doesn't Grow In The City Of Himeji, Japan
There is another Japanese legend about a nobleman in the city of Himeji. He had much wealth and many treasures and trusted only his maid O-kiku (which means chrysanthemum) to clean his treasures.

One day O-kiku found one of her master's ten precious plates was missing. She searched everywhere. When she couldn't find it, she feared she would be blamed and drowned herself in a well. After that, every night her ghost came to count the plates. Her wails and screeching forced the owner to leave the castle. No one wanted to live there because of the ghost. The estate fell into ruins and the people of Himeji, who were glad of the noble's departure, refused to grow chrysanthemums to honor their savior O-kiku.


Human beings love symbolism. It's incredible how many symbols we can come up with for the same object. I believe symbols help us to understand better the world we live in.

In ancient Greece the people wore garlands of chrysanthemums to keep away evil spirits. Wiccans believe the mum is a protective flower that wards the home and keeps away wandering ghosts.

Generally, the chrysanthemum represents happiness, love, longevity and joy. What more could you ask? But be careful, because the symbolism is different depending on the location and color of the bloom.

My Experience

My first son was born in Italy, and my mother-in-law had come from Sicily to Rome to stay with us  for a while and help out. About two weeks after my son was born, a cousin of mine and his wife came to Rome on their honeymoon. Of course, we invited them for dinner.

When they arrived, they brought a beautiful bouquet of chrysanthemums. Well, being from the US, my reaction was, "What beautiful flowers. Thank you so much."

However, my mother-in-law turned white, then red, but she didn't say a word. She didn't speak English, so I assumed her coolness toward my guests was just an inability to communicate. It wasn't until they left that my husband told me that chrysanthemums are used only for funerals in Italy and giving them to someone is like saying they want that person to die.

Yikes! I had no idea.
t took me about twenty years to work up the courage to tell my cousin. We had a good laugh – after the fact.

Symbolism In Other Countries

Asia - Generally symbolic of Life and Rebirth.  However, white is associate the grief and death.

– Typically a Mother's Day Flower because it blooms in May in the Southern hemisphere.

– Chrysanthemums (, ju) are associated with the Ninth Lunar Month and symbolize long life and duration. The colors pink and red mean celebration, good luck and happiness. White, however, means death and ghosts.

– Expressions of sympathy. In France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary Croatia, mums are the symbol of death and used only for funerals and on graves.

– A symbol of the sun and of the Emperor. The orderly unfolding of the petals represents perfection.  The Japanese hold an annual Festival of Happiness which celebrates the chrysanthemum.

United States
– Honor, respect, and honesty; positive and cheerful connotation.

Red – Receiving a red mum is a symbol of love
White – Loyalty and devoted love
Yellow - Neglected love and sorrow. l

It's said that a single petal of this celebrated flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a long and healthy life.



Can you guess? You won't find it on the National Chrysanthemum Society list.

It's Chrysanthemum Stone, a mineral composed of celestite, calcite, andalusite or feldspar which has been compressed and hardened against a base of black limestone, dolomite, or gypsum over the course of 250 million years. The "flowers" of celestite or calsite grew outward in radical patterns under compression, and appear "chrysanthemum-like" in form.

China is the primary source of these stones which, in the past, could be found in streams in only one location of China. Now it has been discovered in other locations, primarily in China and Japan. They are absolutely beautiful.

Like everything else, they are symbolic and said to bring luck. According to, "...the flowers pattern of the stone represents the burst of energy that is love and joy and abundance. It inspires you to start new paths in life (such as a
 career or relationship) and bestows lucky opportunities along the way."



Cara Marsi said...

How interesting. I had no idea about chrysanthemums. Since I'm a November "baby," this is especially interesting to me.

jean hart stewart said...

Well-researched column, as usual, Ann. I have some chrysanthemum rocks and treasure them. They are so special. The Chinese ones are fairly common but the Japanese are more detailed and lovely.

Melissa Keir said...

Fabulously informative post! Thank you! I love the mums they are very hardy and grow in Michigan. The incident with your family in Italy was cute. How fun to see the different meanings! Thanks!

stanalei said...

Fascinating information on mums. I had no idea about the death symbolism. However, they are a favorite around my neck of the woods for Memorial Day. Thanks for sharing.

Toni Noel said...

When I was growing up in the South, college boys presented their dates for football games a huge chrysanthemum in school colors. I wonder if they still do?

Delightfully informative post, Ann.


MaryG said...

When I was in school in Missouri, the chrysanthemum were the flower of choice for football games. In South America, different flowers meant all sorts of things. We presented our dinner hostess with a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers and she discreetly left them on a shelf in the entryway. I had no idea until I read an article about the different meanings for not only the flowers, but the colors.

Fascinating post, thank you.

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