Jesse Brauner

In parts of eastern Asia, the chrysanthemum is extremely important as a cultural symbol. Although the lotus flower has symbolic meaning across a larger swath of the continent, in China and Japan it runs into some stiff competition from this golden-hued beauty.

The word chrysanthemum is a combination of two Greek words: “chrysos” meaning ‘golden’ and “anthemum” meaning ‘flower’. Although chrysanthemums can occur in a range of different colors, the golden variety is the most famous, and this coloring accounts for part of its symbolic importance.

The chrysanthemum has served as the official emblem of the Japanese Imperial family for centuries, and the Emperor was said to occupy the “chrysanthemum throne”. Due to its golden color, the chrysanthemum also functions as a solar symbol, and since the Imperial family traditionally claimed descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami, the importance of the flower speaks for itself.

Due to its many layers of petals, chrysanthemums are symbols of longevity and immortality. They also represent joy and happiness; in Japan today, there is a festival called Kiki no Sekku which, drawing on chrysanthemum symbolism, is dedicated to those values.

In China, the chrysanthemum is one of the “Four Gentlemen” of Confucian tradition, which also includes the plum, orchid and bamboo. Each of these plants represents a season, and since chrysanthemums typically bloom into the autumn, they are associated with that season. The Chinese also traditionally held harvest festivals during the ninth lunar month on the calendar. These festivals were associated with chrysanthemums and may have influenced the Japanese Kiki no Sekku.