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A look at the history behind 2 autumn decor staples — pumpkins and mums

POSTED: October 19, 2012 1:30 a.m.

This time of year, I would venture to say that most everyone has purchased a decorative pot of mums and a colorful pumpkin to adorn their front doorway stoops or other visible places.

Have you ever wondered why we take the time to carefully select just the right color of mums and tediously pick out that certain shape of a pumpkin to adorn our homes?

Exploring the history of why we select certain objects for seasonal display is always a fun topic to write about.

Chrysanthemums

Let’s start with the beautiful chrysanthemum we see at our local garden centers and grocery stores. It is grown for its long life, lasting up to two weeks in a vase and is loved for its many bright colors that work well in fall decorating schemes. The mum is well loved by the home gardener because its colors will last long after most summer flowers are gone.

Native to the Orient and parts of Russia, the mum was cultivated in China around 1500 B.C. By the 8th century A.D., the mum found its way into Japan where it was so well received the emperor adopted the flower as his crest and official seal.

To this date, Japan still celebrates an annual festival called the "Festival of Happiness" to celebrate the flower. The mum found its way into Europe in the 1700s and was introduced to the West some 250 years ago during the colonial times.

Botanists named the plant chrysos, meaning gold, with anthemon, meaning flower. Thus, the name chrysanthemum.

The "mum" flower is the most popular decorative flower of fall with most home gardeners and florists. Mums symbolize optimism, fidelity, longevity and joy. Available in a variety of colors ranging from white, cream, shades of yellow and gold, rusty and deep reds to even pink and light purples, the buyer has a wonderful palette from which to choose.

Look even deeper into the reasons why you choose a certain color and you will be fascinated by what you learn. The rusty and deep reds (my favorite!) symbolize warmth and love. Yellow blossoms signify happiness and energy. White conveys purity and truth.

The mum is second only to the rose in popularity and according to Japanese culture, it is believed if a chrysanthemum petal is set inside the bottom of a wine glass, this will ensure a healthy and long life.

Another important economic use for the mum flower is a natural substance known as pyrethrin, which is extracted from the seeds of the mum flower. Botanical pyrethrins are used as a natural insecticide and made into an organic insect repellent spray, making it one of the safest insecticides for use in the vegetable garden and areas where food is stored.

Pumpkins

On another note, the decorative pumpkins we purchase during the autumn season is one of the most popular crops grown in the United States. Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop usually planted in early July and grown for their many versatile uses.

Most of us buy them for decorations in our yards, and there are as many sizes and shapes as there are people’s tastes in what to choose to adorn their homes. Some like big, fat pumpkins and others choose flat, oblong sizes, along with the different colors ranging from cream to dark, speckled oranges.

The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word "Pepon," which means large melon. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas with the Indians. They were eventually introduced to the Pilgrims. Pumpkins became an important food for the Pilgrims, as they stored well and could provide nutrition during the winter months.

In the 1800s, there was a movement to turn a harvesting tradition into Halloween, which was a celebration emphasizing community and neighborhood activities and parties. This is the tradition that is celebrated today.

The more current origins of pumpkins refer to our traditions of Halloween and the carving of jack-o’-lanterns. Pumpkins now are grown for their size, strong upright walls and, more important, the hollow cavity within. Jack-o’-lanterns are a symbol of harvest celebrations that traditionally started on farms.

Somehow, just knowing a little of the long history of the chrysanthemum flower and the popular pumpkin and their many versatile uses adds wonder and mystique to the holiday decor.

Besides both being a common decorative item this time of year, their distinctive origins adds a certain quality to their existence. This makes them the all more beautiful in a natural setting, and the information around them can be used as a real conversation starter as the Halloween and Thanksgiving approaches.

If you have not already purchased your own mum and pumpkin duo, go out and choose from the wonderful array of colors and sizes to be found and have fun in the process.

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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