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Articles » History of the Modern Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum, March 2013 Issue)
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The Journal of the National Chrysanthemum Society
March 2013
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Captain Pierre-Louis Blancard

History and Development of the Modern Chrysanthemum
by Judith M. Taylor

Illustrations courtesy of Thomas Brown


Chrysanthemum history, like Gaul, is divided into three parts. The first part is the extensive and intensive period in China, and later in Japan, lasting about 1400 years from the 5th century BCE. The second part is the initial introduction into Western Europe in the late 17th century when very little happened. No one paid very much attention to the modest flower and it lapsed into obscurity.

The third part is the beginning of the modern period in 1789 when a sea captain in Marseilles named Pierre-Louis Blancard (not Blanchard as is sometimes written) imported specimens of Chrysanthemum morifolium from China and gave cuttings to the Abbe de Ramatuelle, a noted botanical monk.

This was the first really large flowered chrysanthemum ever seen in Europe. Only a few had survived the journey and the one Blancard sent the abbe and which ultimately reached London was tall and purple.

The abbe fled from Provence soon after the outbreak of the revolution and worked for the rest of his life in Paris. He died from a fall while trying to escape arrest in 1793.

It is astonishing that the flowers survived. These were perilous times in France. With the revolution raging it is remarkable that people even thought about flowers. It is even more amazing that the Jardin du Roi escaped utter destruction as a symbol of the hated royal family. Surprisingly the institution flourished under the new regime and was renamed the Museum of Natural History in 1800. A few of the more intellectual of the revolutionaries believed that understanding natural history was important to a new world order.

This article focuses on the third epoch,


Chrysanthemums are in the Asteraceae family, producing blossoms with large composite heads, Short disc florets are clustered in the center of the blossom. Long slim ray florets supply the "petals" surrounding the disc. The current botanical name of the horticultural chrysanthemum is Dendranthema grandiflorum but in the United States it goes by the affectionate nickname of "mum." Germplasm from other Dendranthema also contributes to the modern hybrid, possibly D.japonicum and D. indicum. C. indicum is the type species of the genus Chrysanthemum.

The next important division is into classes based on the flower's shape, the so-called horticultural divisions. This nomenclature has evolved over the past century, absorbing new forms as they were discovered. The National Chrysanthemum Society's classification is based on the shape and arrangement of the ray as well as the disc florets: Irregular Incurve; Reflex; Regular Incurve; Decorative; Intermediate Incurve; Pompon; Sin- gle/Semi-Double; Anemone; Spoon; Quill; Spider; Brush & Thistle and Exotic. These classes are in keeping with the international system.

Earlier Classifications

A, H, Haworth wrote about the Chinese chrysanthemum in The Flo- ricultural Cabinet on June 1, 1833, Mr. Haworth also tried his hand at a classification that same year. He listed seven classes in J. C. Loudon's Gardener's Magazine: Ranunculus-flowered, Incurved Ranunculus-flowered, China Aster-flowered, Marigold-flowered, Tassel-flowered and Half Double Tassel-flowered, It was a start,

By 1880, a more modern grouping emerged in England:
Section 1 Incurved exhibition varieties
Section II Very large flowering varieties
Section III Anemone-flowered
Section IV Japanese
Section V Anemone-flowered pompones
Section VI Pompones
Section VII Early flowering (outdoors)

At first the miniature form now known as pompon was called "lili- putian" but the resemblance to the pompon on top of the French sailor's hat was irresistible and the name stuck. For a while the early growers called it "pompone." As members of the Asteraceae chrysanthemums and dahlias look very much alike, upto and including the pompon forms. The plant is native to the Northern Hemisphere and widespread across the Eurasian landmass. It is found most abundantly in the Mediterranean region, particularly Algeria and the Canary Islands and in northern Asia such as China Japan and Korea. A few species are endemic to North America, mainly Tanacetum. The European and North African species are diploid whereas the Asian plants range from diploid to decaploid.

Commercial Importance

This flower is now one of the most important floricultural crops in many countries. Together with poinsettias and orchids it appears at various positions in the lists of the top ten most frequently-sold potted plants, cut flowers and garden plants in the United States. In the 1990s Japan led the way with 2 billion stems of cut flowers.

During that epoch The Netherlands sold 800 million stems, Colombia 600 million, Italy 500 million and the United States 300 million. Chrysanthemums in Italy are almost solely used for funereal purposes and Italians get quite upset if a guest arrives with a bunch of chrysanthemums as a hostess gift.

In the United States Department of Agriculture data for 2009/2010, the grand total of hardy potted chrysanthemums sold was 45 million pots, for indoor pots 7 million and for cut pompons 8 million bunches. By comparison 36 million pots of poinsettias were sold during that same period and 21 million pots of orchids.

Development in Europe

Chrysanthemums seized imaginations in England and France at much the same time. Here was a compact floriferous plant, available in attractive colors, easy to grow and coming into bloom at the end of the summer, It could continue in flower as late as December, This was something to conjure away the bleak dullness of autumn. An English horticultural observer, A.H, Haworth, suggested that if they were planted against a sunny wall in England and properly tended the flowers might still be coming in January. The French climate was somewhat more propitious and the flowers flourished in the warmer regions.


The chrysanthemum was said to flower for the first time in England at Colvill's nursery in the King's Road, Chelsea in 1796. Colvill's 'Old Purple' was tall with double purple flowers. Its Linnaean name was Chrysanthemum morifolium, (now C. x morifolium Ra- maf). It was a form of the purple flower Blancard had imported and came from the Jardin du Roi in France.

In fact chrysanthemums had been grown at the Chelsea Physic Garden many years before in the quiescent "Second epoch" mentioned above but were ignored and lost. A Dutch merchant, Jacob Layn, had introduced chrysanthemums into The Netherlands in about 1688 but just as occurred in England, once they died out no one remembered anything about them and a century later it was as if they had never been there. There were said to be six varieties of the flower.

William and Mary of the House of Orange in The Netherlands took over the throne of England in 1688 and introduced the Dutch style of gardening but they favored trees and shrubs over herbaceous plants. The chrysanthemum was not used.

After the flowers were reintroduced, the chrysanthemum spread slowly throughout England. The Horticultural Society of London was
enthusiastic and Curtis' Botanical Magazine carried pictures of the new flower. George Harrison of Downham in Norfolk was enamored of the plants. In 1831, he protected the late plantings under glass with stunning results. Eventually his efforts led to the first chrysanthemum show in Norwich in 1843.

Three years later the Stoke Newington Chrysanthemum Society was started. This later became the National Chrysanthemum Society. Stoke Newington was a charming village just north of London at the time. Henry Cannell, about whom more is noted further on, played an important role in this.

Genders mentioned several chrysanthemum enthusiasts who were active before the next major event, the advent of the Chusan Daisy. There were Isaac Wheeler of Oxford, who exhibited his flowers at the Horticultural Society in 1832 and another resident of Downham, John Freestone of Watlington Hall who was the first Englishman to ripen seed and raise new varieties. Chrysanthemum seed is hard to collect and handle, so this was a real achievement.

In Vauxhall, a lively part of London, Chandler's Nursery grew seedlings from seed sent by John Salter, an English nurseryman who worked in Versailles for many years before having to return in 1848. The uprisings in Paris made things too uncertain for him. Two of Salter's cultivars lasted a very long time. They could be found in some nursery catalogues as late as 1960: the 'Queen of England' and 'Annie Salter'.

Early enthusiasts also had C. indi- cum in their gardens. Its single yellow flowers were an additional source of color. In 1751 Peter Osbeck, one of Linnaeus' students, found C. indicum near Macao in Southern China and sent it back to Europe. Philip Miller cultivated it in the Chelsea Physic Garden as early as 1764.

In 1822 J. C. Loudon, the formidable one-armed horticultural editor and writer, said that Joseph Sabine, secretary of the Horticultural Society of London (subsequently the Royal Horticultural Society) knew of 14 types. Loudon also commented that there were supposed to be more than 50 types of chrysanthemum in China. By 1826, Sabine could point to 48 varieties of this plant in the society's grounds.

Louis Noisette, noted for his roses, took a few of Sabine's varieties back to France in 1826.

Until Robert Fortune brought the Chusan Daisy, C, rubellum, back from China in 1846 these were the only types of chrysanthemum in the British Isles, They formed the backbone of all breeding efforts. (You will look in vain for C, rubellum. It is now Chrysanthemum zawadskii subsp. latilobum. Fortune's introduction became very popular and led to considerably increased interest in the flower, The diminutive daisy-like plant was the forerunner of the pompon group, Another great advantage of the Chusan Daisies was that they flowered much earlier in the year, enabling them to be grown outdoors.

It was still possible to find some of the British varieties from the early and mid-19th century in the 20th century. Genders listed at least 3 "pompones" which appeared in John Forbes' catalogue in 1960: 'Model of Perfection,' 'Bob' and 'Mile. Marthe.' Forbes had a nursery in Hawick, Scotland.

Robert Fortune embellished his already stellar reputation by collecting the Japanese varieties and taking them back to England in 1862, They were quite unlike the previous specimens. Some were shaped like a camellia and there was a wider range of colors, Putting all these together the nurserymen were able to establish a commercial cut flower trade.

Wealthy men of leisure as well as nurserymen devoted their lives to growing and breeding chrysanthemums. They formed societies of like- minded people, held competitions and moved the flower in exciting new directions. The societies created increasingly complicated and rigid rules to govern the exhibitions, constantly tightening the challenge. Rigid rules are a feature of English floral competitions and shows, sometimes stultifying genuine advances and necessary change.

In the next article we shall explore the life and work of some English breeders in more detail.

Copyright © Judith M. faylor January 2013