News release: A Short History of Chrysanthemums

Tim Baker, MU Extension Professional Field Specialist in Horticulture
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: September 27, 2018
Headline: A Short History of Chrysanthemums

When you think of autumn flowers, one of the first ones that come to mind is the chrysanthemum.  Years ago, I came across a history of chrysanthemum cultivation, published by the University of Virginia.  It provides a good example of a plant that was originally found in another part of the world, and was eventually brought to the Americas.

Chrysanthemums originated in China, and were mentioned by Confucius around 500 B.C.  They were introduced to Japan in the 4th century A.D., for medicinal purposes.  But it wasn’t until 1688 that traders brought a few plants back to Europe.  Those few plants died, and no further efforts to import chrysanthemums were made until 1789.

In that year, one single plant made the voyage from China to France, and this time the plant survived.  Chrysanthemums were ideally suited to the climate around Marseilles, and soon the plant was propagated and sold.  A few years later, exhibitions were being held.

The first record of mums being brought to the United States is in 1798, when John Stevens of New Jersey imported them.  They soon became popular, and by 1830, they were being exhibited in flower shows in Boston.

Chrysanthemums grew in popularity.  By the 1870's, specialty shows devoted completely to chrysanthemums were being held.  Both professional and amateur plant breeders devoted time to improving the plant.  Dr. Henry Walcott of Boston, and Elmer Smith of Michigan developed many excellent varieties in the late 19th century.  John Thorpe of New York was enthusiastic enough to found the National Chrysanthemum Society in 1890.

Further progress was made in 1925, when Alex Cumming of Connecticut crossed wild species of chrysanthemums from Korea with standard varieties to produce the Korean Hybrids.  These plants had improved hardiness, and were better able to survive cold winters.

Chrysanthemums are remarkably diverse, with many colors and forms available, mainly due to the time and effort put into development by plant breeders through the years.  The next time you see a mum in someone’s yard or at a football game, think about what it took to get here.  I think you’ll also agree it was truly worth the effort.