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Chrysanthemum sp. L. 1753
pronounced: kris-AN-thee-mum IN-de-kum
(Asteraceae – the daisy family)
common name: Chrysanthemum
The genus contains about 30 species. It once included many more, but was split some decades ago into several genera; and, to the horror of florists, the flower known to the world as ‘chrysanthemum’ became Dendranthema. After much lobbying, a ruling of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in 1999 restored the economically important florists’ chrysanthemum to the Chrysanthemum genus.
Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as far back as the 15th century BC. The flower was introduced into Japan round about the 8th century AD, and the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal. There is a ‘Festival of Happiness’ in Japan that celebrates the flower. The chrysanthemum was brought to Europe in the 17th century, and given its name by Linnaeus.
Modern chrysanthemums are much more showy than their wild relatives. The flowers occur in various forms, and can be daisy-like, decorative, pompoms or buttons. There are many hybrids and thousands of cultivars. As well at the traditional yellow, other colours (such as white, purple, bronze and red) are available. Chrysanthemums are broken into two basic groups, Garden Hardy and Exhibition. The former are perennials capable of being wintered over in the ground in most parts of the world, and have the ability to produce an abundance of small blooms with little or no staking, and to withstand wind and rain. Exhibition varieties are not usually so sturdy.
The blooms are composed of many individual florets, each one capable of producing a seed. The disk florets are in the centre of the bloom-head, and the ray florets are on the perimeter. The ray florets possess only female reproductive organs, while the disk florets have both male and female.
Caterpillars of the Soybean Looper Thysanoplusia orichalcea feed on chrysanthemums.
Yellow or white chrysanthemum flowers are boiled to make a tea in parts of Asia. This tea has many medicinal uses, including an aid to recovery from influenza. In Korea, a rice wine (gukhwaju) is made flavoured with the flowers. The leaves are steamed or boiled and eaten as greens, especially in Chinese cuisine. Other uses include mixing the flower petals with a thick snake meat soup in order to enhance the aroma.
Pyrethrum, the natural insect repellant found in mosquito coils, is extracted from chrysanthemums, from the pulverized flowers.
In some countries of Europe, white chrysanthemums are symbolic of death, and are only used at funerals and on graves; and, similarly, in China, Japan and Korea, they are symbolic of lamentation. In the USA, the flower is usually regarded as being positive and cheerful. Australians traditionally give their mothers a bunch of chrysanthemums on Mother’s Day. When I was a boy, these were always white chrysanthemums, which was the only colour I remember being grown in Townsville in the 1930s.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 15th March 2018