Flower of the month

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - Pam Bax­ter

In autumn, it’s the bright-col­ored trees that get top billing. No sur­prise there; it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to not keep look­ing up at one bril­liant tree or vista af­ter an­other. And when the sun hits at just the right an­gle . . . ah, well, then it looks like na­ture was the in­spi­ra­tion for stained-glass win­dows. This year, I’ve also found my at­ten­tion caught closer to the ground, by the deep gem-col­ors of chrysan­the­mums. In the past, I’ve never paid a whole lot of at­ten­tion to mums other than to ap­pre­ci­ate their cold- and frosthar­di­ness. They were bright and cheery but they didn’t seem very re­mark­able to me.

Lately, though, it seems that there are more col­ors to choose from be­sides the stan­dard yel­low or white. To­day’s chrysan­the­mums come in pur­ple, deep rose, bur­gundy, saf­fron, and two-tone mums with deep-col­ored cen­ters and a sunny fringe. The vi­brant col­ors some­how hint at the warm com­fort of a leather arm­chair or the rich­ness of a glass of sherry on a frost-tinged day.

There’s some­thing of stay­ing power in mums, as well. When the leaves have all fallen from the trees, the mums will bear their blos­soms a while longer, a cheery sight.

Chrysan­the­mum — the plant’s com­mon name — is also its botan­i­cal name. Named by Carl Lin­naeus, the 18th-cen­tury fa­ther of mod­ern plant tax­on­omy, the moniker of this Asi­atic flower name is cob­bled to­gether from an­cient Greek roots: “chrysos,” mean­ing “gold” and “an­the­mon,” mean­ing “flower.”

The FTD web­site (ftd.com) re­minds us that Novem­ber’s birth­month flower is the chrysan­the­mum. It also fills in a lit­tle his­tory. As far as is known, chrysan­the­mums are na­tive to main­land Asia and north­east­ern Europe. In China, they were cul­ti­vated for cen­turies as an herbal rem­edy for ail­ments such as headaches, high blood-pres­sure and in­flam­ma­tion.

The chrysan­the­mum mi­grated to Ja­pan, where it was cul­ti­vated by Bud­dhist monks and be­came the em­blem for the em­peror’s of­fi­cial seal. It fi­nally reached West­ern Europe — and Lin­naeus — around 1750.

In wild chrysan­the­mums, with their flat, daisy-like flow­ers, it’s easy to see why they’re in­cluded in Aster­aceae, the aster family. There are now so many hy­brids, this re­la­tion is easy to miss. To­day’s hy­brids sport at least six dif­fer­ent types of flow­ers. “Sin­gle” blooms look the most like chrysan­the­mums’ aster rel­a­tives. But there are also “in­curved” flow­ers, which look like globes, “re­flexed,” which look more um­brella-shaped, “in­ter­me­di­ate,” which look like loosely-petaled globes, and “spoon.” Th­ese last have “sin­gu­lar flow­er­heads with tubu­lar flo­rets that open at the tips in a spoon shape.” (En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Gar­den­ing, Amer­i­can Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety)

Cul­ti­vat­ing chrysan­the­mums is not dif­fi­cult. As with any gar­den

plant, proper sit­ing is key. Mums need a place where they will get the five to six hours of di­rect sun­light a day that they need. The soil should drain well, and the plants also need good air cir­cu­la­tion to pre­vent mildew; don’t set them too close to each other.

Be­yond that, the key to dense, bushy plants and lots of blooms is pinch­ing. Pinch­ing should start when new growth is four to six inches. It’s sim­ple — just re­move the stem above the sec­ond set of leaves (count­ing up from the base). Con­tinue to pinch back the stems through June. Ap­par­ently, some of the newer cul­ti­vars don’t need pinch­ing; that’s some­thing to check at the gar­den cen­ter.

If your mums are planted in the ground and you want them to over­win­ter, cover them with a heavy layer of mulch af­ter the ground has frozen, to pro­tect the roots.

Note: The an­nual Chrysan­the­mum Fes­ti­val at Long­wood Gar­dens in Ken­nett Square, is on­go­ing through Nov. 20. One of the cen­tral ex­hibits is a “thou­sand-bloom” mum that bears more than 1,500 “per­fectly ar­ranged yel­low flow­ers on one plant.” It’s the largest one out­side of Asia.

PHOTO BY PAMELA BAX­TER

A se­lec­tion of Chrysan­the­mums are shown.

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