When we see bed after bed of the same flowering plants, it's easy to think that these beauties have always occupied the space around our mailboxes and in front of the signs announcing the names of office parks and subdivisions and that they always will. But the reality, of course, is that the botanical world — just like human culture — is continually evolving. Chrysanthemums (commonly known as mums), for example, are more than the uniform mounds of colorful button-shaped blooms that we adorn our front steps with each fall. They are one of the few fall-blooming plant choices out there, but their notoriety extends far beyond this contemporary use.
Mums originate in Asia where they have been cultivated for nearly 2000 years, playing a significant role in society, both historically and in modern times. Along with bamboo, orchids and plum blossoms, chrysanthemums are one of the 'Four Gentleman' used in traditional Chinese art. Typically rendered in delicate ink drawings these four plants represent four of the noblest qualities of human beings as well as the unfolding of the four seasons — naturally, mums correspond to the fall season.
In Japan, mums form the seal of the emperor and have a holiday dedicated to celebrating them. As recognition for heroic deeds or outstanding public service, the Japanese bestow the honor of The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum on their countrymen, a gesture similar to knighthood in England. So next time you pick up a planter of mums, think of someone whom you really admire and bestow a bouquet of this esteemed, well-known flower on them.