As warm weather gives way to cooler days, we begin to see chrysanthemums everywhere. These hardy plants, also called mums, are a beacon of autumn in North America. Blooming in late summer through mid-fall, mums add a pop of color when other garden plants are dying back for the year.
Chrysanthemums are readily found in nurseries and garden centers. You may even find them at your local grocery store, along with pumpkins and corn stalks. Mums make an excellent autumnal decoration, as they bloom in warm shades of reds, yellows, and purples that reflect the hues of the changing leaves on trees.
In the United States we associate mums with the start of fall, Halloween, and everything pumpkin spice flavored. However, in many nations, chrysanthemums have a more somber meaning. In some European and Asian countries, certain mums are used almost exclusively for funerals and grave markers. These mums are usually white in color to symbolize grieving.
There are thirteen main types of chrysanthemums, determined mostly by the shape of the flowers. There are countless variations in size and color as well, with thousands of individual varieties being officially recognized by the National Chrysanthemum Society.
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Some of the most common types of chrysanthemums are cushion, with a mounded flower shape, and spider mums, with dangling petals reminiscent of legs. The quill mum has petals that are tube-shaped, and button mums have petite flowers growing on the stems in a natural bouquet shape.
One of the most popular uses of chrysanthemums worldwide is to dry the flowers and make them into tea. This practice is said to have begun in China around one thousand years ago, and remains widespread to this day. Chrysanthemum tea is served both hot and iced year-round, and is frequently sweetened with honey.
All chrysanthemum flowers are edible but they exhibit nearly as many flavors as there are types of blossoms! Some mums have a peppery flavor, some are tart, and some are thought to taste like honey. If you’re making your own tea, be sure your mums are clean and chemical-free before drying them.
If you know someone who loves everything associated with autumn, chrysanthemums will make a wonderful gift. As part of a holiday display or planted in a flower bed, mums deliver a brilliant splash of color late in the growing season. When other plants are winding down, mums are in full bloom to brighten a friend’s day with jewel-like colors.