Spider mums belong to the chrysanthemum family, with some of that family's largest blooms. Spider mums are also known as football mums in the United States, as they are the flower most commonly appearing in homecoming corsages. Long revered in China and Japan, versatile chrysanthemums retain their blossoms long after they've been cut, have antibacterial properties and even represent a substantial cash crop for their ability to produce a natural insecticide.
Native to China, mums became popular in the United States over the last century. The 18th century Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus created the name chrysanthemum by combining the Greek words chrysos (meaning gold) and anthos (meaning flower). In 1989 chrysanthemums made news in NASA's study on plant abilities to remove toxins from indoor air; the report indicated that mums absorbed 61 percent of the formaldehyde in its environment. The mum is also a significant source of pyrethrum, a naturally occurring insecticide used in flea repellent. Tea made from the flower has long been used throughout Asia for medicinal purposes.
Spider Mum Appearance
Spider mum blooms reach six inches across and are available in white, light green, pale purple and bright yellow. Their petals (known as florets on all mums) shoot out from the bloom as long, thin rays with hooked or coiled ends. Mum petals are termed florets because technically each is an individual flower, hundreds of which spring from a blossom's central disk. Its matte, multi-lobed leaves are highly similar to the mugwort weed, such that mugwort has the common name "wild chrysanthemum."
Spider Mum Significance
Spider mums symbolize different things in different countries. Brides.com indicates that in the United States, spider mums convey "elope with me" or impart a bohemian style to a bridal bouquet. The national flower of Japan, a chrysanthemum adorns the crest of the Japanese imperial family, and an annual "Festival of Happiness" commemorates the flower's role in Japanese society. For the Chinese, the mum as symbolizes nobility. In contrast, Europeans see mums as representing death and place them on graves or in funeral arrangements.
Hardy Mums vs. Florist Mums
Potted chrysanthemums sold by florists lack the hardiness of mums made to grow in a garden, which are known as "hardy mums" because they will regrow each year from their underground shoots. Florist mums, grown only for indoor use, trade hardiness for larger, showier blooms. Few hardy varieties of spider mums are available, given their flowers' exuberant size and shape. The Better Homes and Gardens' mum guide notes that florist mums can be planted in a garden, but their susceptibility to frost limits their use to that of short-lived decorative annuals.
Spider mum care is the same as for any nonhardy chrysanthemum. Typically grown in six-inch pots, mums require regular fertilization from the day they are potted until flower buds form. They grow best in coarse, loose, well-draining soil. Give a blooming plant plenty of bright light, but not direct sun, and keep soil moist but not saturated. Mums appreciate cooler temperatures at night, between 60 and 65 degrees. A potted mum can continue blooming up to a month.