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Nineteenth Century Chrysanthemum Rage

How well I remember the Smith College annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show in Northampton, Massachusetts. It runs for a few weeks in November.

The show is certainly worth a visit.  The number of plants in various arrangements and the colors of the flower take your breath away.

History of the Chrysanthemum

According to Judith Taylor in her book An Abundance of Flowers: More Great Flower Breeders of the Past, “The modern period for the chrysanthemum begins in 1789 with chrysanthemum morifolium from China.”

Today, she claims, this flower is one of the most inportant floricultural crops in many countries.

Certain hybrizers have devoted their life to producing new varieties of the chrysanthemum.

Nineteenth Century Pursuit of Chrysanthemum Hybrids

Taylor writes, “Robert Fortune’s introduction of seven Japanese species in 1862 [into England] invigorated the field; everyone was excited by the large blossoms with long, narrow, and fantastical petals.”

Taylor says, “The chrysanthemum appeared very quickly in the United States after its arrival in Europe.”

I thought of the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs and what they had to say about this marvelous flower.

Boston horticulturist Charles Mason Hovey, according to Taylor, wrote in the 1846 edition of his garden magazine that “few plants afford more gratification than a good collection of chyrsanthemums.”

From Philadelphia the following quote appeared in the Robert Buist seed catalog of 1895.

Buist said: “It has not been many years since the Chrysanthemum was regarded by the masses as being unworthy of cultivation, the flowers although of brilliant colors were common in their appearance, and their color obnoxious.

“Today our Chrysanthemum exhibitions throughout the country are great and fashionable events, and it may be classed as the great American favorite. This change in sentiment is owing to the great improvements made in the coloring, size, and exquisite form of the flower.”

Taylor says the hybridizers for the chrysanthemum were either wealthy men of leisure or nurserymen who devoted their lives to breeding chyrsanthemums.

Chrysanthemum ‘Golden Empress’, one of many mums from an earlier Smith’s Annual Chrysanthemum Show.

In 1891 American gardener James Morton said,  “Numerous works have been devoted to this favorite flower, but they are chiefly of English origin.

“In view of the great difference in our climatic conditions, they can only with uncertainty be adopted as guides in our country.”  

So he wrote his own book on the chyrsanthemum for American gardeners called Chrysanthemum Culture for America.

Morton mentioned a bright yellow chrysanthemum called ‘Golden Empress.’  

That same plant once appeared at the Smith Chrysanthemum Show.

‘Golden Empress’ still holds its attraction for the chrysanthemum lover.

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