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Mums enliven autumn: Ancient flower comes in numerous varieties

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2001

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- With fall nearing, mum's the word.

Pots of budding chrysanthemums line sidewalks outside supermarkets, enticing customers. Thanks to this ancient Chinese and Japanese flower, gardens end their year in a blaze of color rivaling the autumn glory of the leaves above.

The show, however spectacular, also conveys the melancholy of a dying season, and thus chrysanthemums are regarded in some places as the proper flower for funerals and cemeteries. But some of the many chrysanthemum varieties flower also from midsummer on.

There are wide differences in the shapes of the flowers and the way the petals turn. Their forms get the names of pompon, spider, spoon, semidouble and daisy.

Chrysanthemum comes from the Greek ''chrysos'' (gold) and ''anthos'' (flower.) Garlands were made of it in Roman times to ward off demons. In Japan, a 16-petaled chrysanthemum that looked like the Rising Sun became a symbol of the Mikado.

The Japanese link is evoked also in the French novel ''Madame Chrysantheme'' by Pierre Loti that is regarded as having strongly influenced Puccini's creation of Madame Butterfly. Artists like Renoir and Degas did celebrated paintings featuring chrysanthemums.

Mums, as they are generally called, are grown primarily as cut flowers for the florist trade. Bouquets of large in-curved petals make dramatic arrangements whatever the setting.

Bought as plants in pots and transplanted, mums may be propagated in the garden for season after season. They like full sun and rich soil. Plants that survive the winter profit from division each spring, giving you more and stronger plants. It's a good idea to mulch them the year around and to fertilize in early spring. A chrysanthemum grown indoors can be given new life outdoors, but be sure to shade it gradually from the sun to ''harden'' it.

New cultivars are always making debuts. Touted recently are Belgian Mums, a variety introduced in America by GroLink Chrysanthemums of Oxnard, Cal., Tel. 805-984-7958. They have a high flower count and a round shape and flexibility that eliminates the need for pinching and staking.

And a supplier called My Favorite, based in West Chicago, Ill., Tel. 630-588-2188, is introducing in the spring of 2002 five perennials of varied color, appearance and flowering times. They also will need no pinching to maintain shape or bloom and will just have to be cut back to two inches annually.

The mums are three daisy types called Autumn Red, Twilight Pink, and Coral; one called Yellow Quill, while essentially a daisy type, has tubular shaped ''quill'' petals that give the plant an airy look; and one called White features semidouble flowers with four to five rows of petals and a yellow center.

American horticulturist Luther Burbank crossed ox-eye daisies with a Japanese daisy and obtained the famous Shasta daisy, named for Mount Shasta near his home in northern California.

Different cultivars of shastas continue to beguile gardeners. White Flower Farm, the noted nursery in Litchfield, Conn., (800-503-9624; www.whiteflowerfarm.com) is offering a double shasta called Christine Hagemann, which it found in Germany. This plant, growing 36 inches tall and 30 inches wide, features 3 1/2-inch-wide flowers packed with white petals.

Another white shasta called Becky offered by White Flower Farm originated in Georgia and is promoted as the best shasta for the South, but it also does well in New England. Blooming from July to September, it stands up to 4 feet tall and has huge 4-inch-wide flowers.

Among the many cultivars, an old-time chrysanthemum called Clara Curtis still performs proudly. Offered by another well-known nursery, Wayside Gardens Of Hodges, S.C., (800-213-0379; www.waysidegardens.com), this plant is promoted as ''long-blooming, heavy-flowering and so cold-hardy that it survives astonishing winters without losing a root.'' Sporting masses of golden-eyed, powder-pink daisies, the plants reach 18 inches in height and spread 2 feet wide.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.

End advance for Thursday, Sept. 6, and thereafter



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