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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006


Kiku (Chrysanthemum)

The butterfly grown old, Its spirit plays Among chrysanthemums.

By Enomoto Seifu (1732-1815)

Chrysanthemums have been cultivated in their native China for thousands of years. The roots, leaves and flowers were used in herbal remedies for sore eyes, liver complaints, fevers, headaches and even deafness. The plant arrived in Japan around the eighth century, and it quickly became a favorite among the nobility, featuring in poems and paintings as well as in competitions for the most elegant bloom. Over the centuries, Oriental gardeners produced outstanding varieties: from massive globular blooms to eerie, spiderlike forms with long, thin petals. In the 1790s, some modest chrysanthemums arrived at Kew Gardens in England and, once again, they had an enthusiastic welcome -- so much so that the great Swedish botanist and taxonomist Karl Linnaeus (1707-78) named the plant after the Greek chrusos and anthemon, meaning "gold flower." Nowadays, they are the most popular pot plant in America, and every country has its specialist chrysanthemum club. The plants are very sensitive to the changing seasons. They only flower after the summer solstice, and many varieties need long hours of darkness before they will begin to produce buds. However, once they have started, many will flower right into winter and until frost withers the stems. Nurserymen trick their plants into flowering throughout the year by covering them with dark cloths so that the plants -- sensing that autumn has come -- diligently start to bud.

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