About 500 B.C. Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, made the first official reference to the chrysanthemum in his work Li-Ki. Many of the 150 wild species were commonly cultivated by that date. By 365 A.D. the flowers were so popular in China that one bustling centre of cultivation was called Chuchsien, the Chrysanthemum City.
Soon these Chinese cultivars were introduced to Japan where other wild species already existed. The hardy Chinese cultivars were usually tightly incurved in white, yellow or mauve.
The Japanese species were much bigger and brighter with a better colour range in reflexed and loosely incurving forms. The Japanese crossed their wild species with the Chinese cultivars creating a multitude of superb hybrids.
Chinese chrysanthemums reached Europe in 1789. "Old Purple" and "Changeable White" were the first introductions followed by 60 more cultivars by 1826. The Royal Horticultural Society was so impressed that they funded expeditions to China and Japan in the 1860's.
These expeditions introduced the Chusan daisy, parent of modern pompone varieties, plus the previously unseen collection of fabulous Japanese varieties into western civilization.
European hybridists were delighted to discover how easily the flowers cross pollinated. The result lead to a vast array of modern chrysanthemums. Cross breeding new hybrids continues to
The secrets behind developing a successful new cultivar are as much artistry as scientific method. One of Australia's greatest breeders, Thomas Pockett O.B.E., creator of thousands of hybrids, always tried to gather pollen during periods of strong electrical disturbance.
Pollen is usually released in the morning. Quality and quantity increase when a change in the weather is approaching.
"This is the time I consider the greatest possible variations in the seedlings can be obtained, with proper selection and management reaching the highest ideals."
Today chrysanthemums are raised throughout much of the temperate world. England, France, U.S.A., Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand are all top producers.
New Zealand growers have contributed many exquisite single, spider and quill (fantasy) varieties. The largest Japanese exhibition hybrids can reach 2m with 23cm blooms, while tiny asian miniatures fit comfortably in a bonsai dish.
The Florist Chrysanthemum, C. x morifolium, most commonly comes to mind when thinking of "mums" but the genus also includes the Shasta daisy (C. maximum), Pyrethrum (C. coccineum), Marguerite Daisies (C. frutescens), Painted Daisies (C. carinatum), dainty
Chrysanthemum pallidum and many more unlikely relatives.
All species demand full sun and a slightly acid, well drained soil rich in manure. Most annual and miniature species are easily started from seed in spring flowering the same year. Hardy garden varieties are often increased by root division which can be done from now through early spring.
Commercial and exhibition growers raise flowers from true rooted cuttings. These produce the strongest plants and highest quality blooms. To produce true rooted cuttings, sand is placed over a mature crown.
The new shoots that push through the sand will produce side roots. Once root development is strong the shoots are removed from the parent in late winter onward and replanted.
Fresh cuttings will also strike if dipped in hormone solution. Stand cuttings in a pot filled with a sand/peat mix. Cover with a clear plastic bag to create a mini propagator. If kept warm, humid and bright the cuttings will quickly develop.
Once planted in their permanent position stake plants securely, shelter from wind, pelting rains and extremes. Chrysanthemums are gross feeders, thriving on complete plant foods and liquid fertilisers with extra trace elements.