Spider, spiky, thistle, spoon, quill, anemone, pom—are these random words referring to things such as hair style, writing utensils, cheerleaders, and kitchen ware? They could be, but in this case they are descriptions of various forms of chrysanthemums (mums). Mums are beautiful ornamental flowers that often peak in the fall.
According to Wikipedia, the name is derived from Ancient Greek and means gold flower. Mums were first cultivated in China 3,500 years ago. They were introduced to Japan in the 8th century CE, and adopted by the Emperor as his official seal. My good friend Jan Gordon, owner of East Meets West Flowers in Pleasantville, New York, informed me that the Emperor was drawn to the flower because of its various attributes, such as strength wisdom, honesty, purity, and nobility. Mums finally arrived on American shores in 1798 from England.
Since then, horticulturalists have cross-bred many varieties. There are hundreds now in different shapes and colors. But mums are not just decorative and ornamental. The Chinese use them to make tea. Some European cultures view them as symbolic of death and use them at funerals.
In the U.S., the mum is the official flower of Chicago and Salinas, California. They have also been adopted by various fraternities and sororities. And while it was fun to use mums in the title of this piece, “Mum’s the Word” has nothing to do with the flower—it means “silent” and was made famous by William Shakespeare in Henry VI.
I was privileged recently to meet a retired gentleman who for decades has been an expert mum hobbyist. He often enters his mums into various competitions, and is frequently asked to judge others across the country.
In one such competition this year, 10 of his mums were among the top 25 awardees. While getting to know each other, I simultaneously photographed most of his flowers. To see more of these magnificent specimens, click on this link to admire them on my website.
Photos by Gary Kohn