Chrysanthemums are totems of fall. They’re the vivid accents of a season already bursting with color. When all else seems to be winding down and dying, the chrysanthemum explodes onto the scene in a burst of radiance, allowing life to glow through the technicolor detritus of autumn.
It’s a strange tenure for a flower to hold, to be sure, one that’s sparked the curiosity of cultures around the globe for centuries, and even now, our appetite for this mysterious flower is yet to be quenched. It’s the very reason I’m writing this, and you’re here reading it!
As a species, we have a collective obsession with this plant, celebrating it, fearing it, attaching meaning after meaning to its flower. Is it healthy? Who’s to say?
But it can’t hurt to indulge ourselves in this floral fascination just a little longer. So, let’s put it under the microscope and see what symbolism bubbles beneath the surface.
What Does The Chrysanthemum Flower Mean?
So brimming with life, yet so closely affiliated with the half-death of the fall landscape, it should be no shock to learn that the chrysanthemum means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but its most prominent symbolic tie is definitely with joy.
I have to say, there is something inherently child-like and happy about these flowers. Perhaps it’s their petal density, their velvety texture, the fact they bloom like super slow motion fireworks… who knows. All we do know is that if we’re looking at chrysanthemums, 99% of the time, we’re smiling.
Etymological Meaning Of The Chrysanthemum Flower
Derived from the Greek chrysos, which means “gold”, and anthemon, meaning “flower”, the etymological chain of the chrysanthemum is a short one. And being that the only other names they go by are, chrysanths and mums, contractions of their proper name, that’s all there is to say on the matter, really.
Symbolism Of The Chrysanthemum Flower
As discussed earlier, the chrysanthemum’s primary symbolic wheelhouse is joy, and with such a playful and bold color palette (more on that later), who could disagree?
If someone in your life needs cheering up, a big old bouquet of chrysanthemums is a lovely way to get them feeling a little more themselves again.
- Long Life
Have you ever heard the term “the autumn of our lives”? It’s a pleasant way of talking about the last phase of life, the golden years, our final hurrah before we discover what’s on the other side of the mortal curtain, so to speak.
Well, the blooming of chrysanthemums in this fateful season is said to symbolize a long life, that despite our years stacking up, there is still vitality in both body and spirit to be enjoyed.
To the western world, notions of nobility are rarely paired with the chrysanthemum, but in the far East, there is no plant more regal. This connection to rulers and notorious family lines is sort of a re-contextualization of the chrysanthemum’s ties to long life and longevity we just touched upon.
The permanence associated with these joyous blooms reflects the longstanding names of culturally significant families.
- Good Luck
One of the reasons chrysanthemums are seen as such joyous plants is that they have such positive energy, which has led to them being used as tokens of luck, or, rather, tokens that will attract good luck if you have them growing in your yard or kept as cut blooms in your home.
- Death, Grief, and Remembrance
Here’s the other side of the chrysanthemum coin. In certain parts of the world, the chrysanthemum isn’t such a happy flower. As they grow amidst the falling autumn leaves, when most other flowers have shriveled or disappeared completely, this flower is seen as the floral representation of death.
Sounds grim, right? Well, yes and no. It’s not that it’s bad luck to see them, as was the case with the snowdrop in Victorian England; it’s just that they’re seen as funeral flowers.
In fact, so strong is this relationship with the great beyond, that, in many European nations, they’re used exclusively for funerals.
Here’s where the whole death, grief, and remembrance thing starts to make a bit more sense for this objectively joyous blossom. Part of the reason they’re categorized as the flower of death is that they also signify rebirth, another symbolic meaning derived from their blooming in fall.
So, although they’re used in funerals, they’re actually a sign of positivity and hope. They symbolize the rebirth of the deceased in the great beyond.
The chrysanthemum reminds people at the service that, though their loved one may be gone from this world, they await them in the next.
Chrysanthemum Flower Color Meanings
We’ve already covered a lot of ground today, but we’re far from mastering this wonderful flower. Now we must consider the nuances of meaning attributed to the various colors of the chrysanthemum.
Even in nations such as Japan where the chrysanthemum is held in the highest regard, their white variant is reserved almost exclusively for funerals and grave adorning; however, that’s not the whole story.
They’re also utilized around the globe as a means of showing respect, loyalty, and devotion, making them a fantastic gift for mentors, long-time partners, parents, and valued friends.
Whereas white flowers usually take care of the sorrowful side of symbolism, and yellow flowers typically connote joy, a yellow chrysanthemum is said to symbolize anguish and neglected affections.
It’s a strange twist of the floral standard accepted by most of the world, but hey… the chrysanthemum breaks the mold in more ways than one. That’s why we’re so intrigued by it.
As you might have guessed, a red chrysanthemum is a wholehearted celebration of love. For those times when the classic red rose seems too buttoned down to communicate the vigor of your love for someone, a chrysanthemum is a far more accurate token.
Plus, when you choose a chrysanthemum to show your love, the ties it shares with permanence and longevity resonate too, making it a very clever gift indeed.
Orange chrysanthemums are similar to their red counterparts in terms of meaning, but they’re not quite as sure or established. They tend to reflect a more delicate love, perhaps in its opening stages.
Considering orange chrysanthemums is a great way to remain mindful of the fragility of what you have with someone, helping you to appreciate it all the more.
A blue chrysanthemum is all about the acceptance of a relationship’s end. A hint of nostalgic sorrow may never leave, but the pain of the break-up has dissipated, and you are now ready to move on with your life.
Violet chrysanthemums, on the other hand, represent the pain we feel at the prospect of losing a loved one. This could be a partner to someone else, a family member to death, a friend to distance… it all falls under the chrysanthemum’s violet umbrella.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Chrysanthemum Flower
Chrysanthemum flower heads are known as composites, meaning their flower heads are actually composed of many smaller, discrete flowers. This suggests that the larger things and goals in life are composed of hundreds of smaller achievements, small footsteps on the path to glory.
It reminds us that hardly anyone is ever born into a big future, yet, with plenty of hard work and determination, we can make our dreams a reality.
There’s also poignancy in their autumn blooming — Even though winter is right around the corner, we feel a warmth in our souls and know that we’ll make it through the trying times ahead.
Special Occasions For The Chrysanthemum Flower
Chrysanthemums are the official flower of the month of November when autumn is in full swing and a wash of shifting colors and textures takes hold of the landscape. As such, they’re the perfect November birthday gift.
They’re also a suitable funeral flower in their white form, and, as the floral representative of 13th anniversaries, they’re a shoo-in as a gift for the long-time lovers in your life!
Chrysanthemum Flower Cultural Significance
Being that “mums” were first grown in China, it’s small wonder they have developed such a ubiquitous cultural presence there. The Chinese name for chrysanthemum, juhua, means the essence of the sun, and they were first recorded in writing as far back as 15th century BC.
As well as being a symbol of royalty, autumn, and the ninth moon, they were seen as an essential medicinal herb that could treat all sorts of ailments. One traditional Chinese headache remedy, for example, involved boiling the roots of chrysanthemum.
This floral fall mainstay can also be found in a number of ancient Chinese paintings and poems, reflecting just how dear it was and still is in Chinese culture.
Such is the love for this flower in China, it has become the official city flower of both Beijing and Kaifeng, and is celebrated over the course of a month-long chrysanthemum festival between the 18th of October and 18th of November.
The Japanese share a similar sentiment. In this part of the world, the chrysanthemum is synonymous with the line of the emperor; although, they do reserve white chrysanthemums for funeral practices.
They also recognize the joy of this plant on “National Chrysanthemum Day” (9th November), otherwise known as The Festival of Happiness.
It’s thought that the ancient Egyptians may have been the first civilization to make fake flowers with robust materials, and the chrysanthemum was one of their favorites to immortalize.
In Iran, the chrysanthemum is associated with Ashi Vanghuhi, a female yazard (angel) of good blessings.
Australians wear white chrysanthemums on Mother’s Day to pay respects to their mothers.
In the US, the chrysanthemum is recognized as the city flower of Chicago and Salinas. It’s seen as an ebullient expression of joy and honor, but in European nations such as Belgium, France, Austria, and Germany, they’re seen as a symbol of death and grief.
Chrysanthemum Flower Facts
- Chrysanthemums are made up of ray florets and disk florets. The ray florets are considered imperfect (botanically speaking) as they only have female reproductive organs, while the disk florets have both female and male reproductive organs.
- In the chrysanthemum’s native China, it’s known as One of the Four Gentlemen. The other three “gents” are bamboo, plum blossom, and orchids. Each is a totem of a different season. The chrysanthemum is, of course, the autumn gent, the plum blossom is the winter gent, the orchid is spring, and bamboo is summer.
- The chrysanthemum was imported to Japan from China in 17 AD by Buddhist monks, and to say the Japanese took a shine to these bountiful blossoms would be a major understatement. It wouldn’t be long before Japanese emperors were sitting on The Chrysanthemum Throne, and the chrysanthemum was incorporated in the imperial crest of Japan.
- It wasn’t until the 17th century that the intrepid chrysanthemum arrived on and was subsequently planted in western soil.
- It was one Colonel John Stevens that brought the chrysanthemum to the US.
- Dried chrysanthemum flowers make for a wonderfully revitalizing cup of tea, and the leaves are edible, so if you’re looking for something to spice up a superfood salad, you may only need to look as far as your own backyard.
- Pyrethrum, an oil extract drawn from chrysanthemums, has been used as an ingredient in insecticides for hundreds of years. Yep, these beautiful flowers are toxic to many common garden pests such as fleas, ticks, and ants, yet they’re completely animal-safe.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Chrysanthemum Flower Tattoo
A chrysanthemum tattoo can mean any number of things to an individual, but all the typical color associations discussed earlier will normally be taken into account before someone goes under the needle.
The most common meaning of a chrysanthemum tattoo is that of rebirth and starting anew. This could apply to the wearer of the tatt, but it could just as well be a sign of remembrance for a loved one who’s no longer by their side.
Congratulations! You are now fluent in the chrysanthemum dialect of the language of flowers — hooray! In the morbid curiosity shop of autumn, the chrysanthemum is a hopeful glint in the corner of our eye, reminding us that there is beauty everywhere, even in loss.
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