Mums are a truly a remarkable plant. Most people think of mums as pretty round balls of color that punctuate fall or perhaps a potted florist plant that is a great gift to cheer someone up.
Chrysanthemums actually have an ancient and royal history. Records show that mums were first cultivated in China as far back as the 15th century BC. This cultivation was primarily for medicinal uses. The plant arrived in Japan around the 8th century AD, and was so beloved, that the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal. The monarchy and its ruling institutions became known as the Chrysanthemum throne.
During the 17th century, the plant made its way into Western Europe and was promptly named by the famous Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus, using the Greek word ‘chrysos,’ meaning gold, and ‘anthemon’ for flower. Eventually, European and American plant breeders developed all sorts of flower colors and petal sizes and shapes. We now have the modern Chrysanthemum.
The Chrysanthemum warrants its own society—The National Chrysanthemum Society—an active group of enthusiasts with many local chapters. In the fall, these societies hold competitions that showcase the amazing variety of bloom colors, flower size and shape.
One popular flower type is the large blooming type known as the ‘football mum.’ Worn as a corsage to special football games such as homecoming, this one brings back memories for many folks here in the South. There are also trailing types of mums that can be grown on frames to create cascades and umbrella effects. These are moved from the growing areas to display gardens to showcase.
Mums are daylight sensitive and require a specific amount of darkness to initiate the bloom cycle. To accommodate this requirement, mum producers have dark curtain systems built into greenhouses to artificially create darkness during the long daylight periods of the year. In the South, garden mums that are growing as perennials naturally bloom in late September and October as the days get shorter.
The classic garden mum is a staple display plant for fall gardens. They can be purchased in pot sizes ranging from as small as 4 inches, to 1, 2, 3 and even 5 gallon sizes. Either enjoyed in the pots or planted in beds, they will bloom for up to three weeks. In the South, from USDA Zone 8 or more, they will overwinter, if planted in the ground, and can be maintained as perennials for a number of years. Some of our favorite varieties here at the Dallas Arboretum are ‘Flamingo Pink,’ ‘Pink Frenzy,’ ‘Spicy Cheryl Orange,’ ‘Bertha White’ and ‘Kathleen Dark Red.’ If you would like to see these varieties and others blooming up close, now is the time. Over the next three weeks, our 3,000 mums will be in full bloom as part of Autumn at the Arboretum.