Should There Be Blue Chrysanthemums?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Japanese scientists have developed a blue Chrysanthemum through splicing in genes from two blue-flowering plants.

Research suggests that blue is the most popular color among people, but blue flowers are relatively rare. It turns out that a plant needs specific genetic machinery to have blue blooms. The pigments in blue flowers are actually orange, red, or purple. With certain plants the pigments undergo a chemical reaction that results in a blue flower.

blue false indigo
Blue Wild Indigo

The first question that comes to my mind is this: why would you want to have a blue Chrysanthemum? Yes, blue is a beautiful color (it’s one of my two favorites, along with orange). But to me, a blue Chrysanthemum is just a funny-looking Chrysanthemum, and God knows we have enough of those already.

I feel a reflexive resistance to messing with the basic forms or color range of garden plants, whether the changes result from genetic engineering or traditional breeding methods. There is a practical argument for this: evidence suggests that the more fundamentally you change a plant, the more you are likely to reduce its usefulness to pollinators.

There are also broader concerns about the impact of genetically engineered plants. I don’t know enough to have a strong opinion on that topic, though the prospect of Frankenplants makes me generally uneasy.

2012-09-23 aromatic aster and goldenrod
Aromatic Aster with Anise-Scented Goldenrod

Which is not to say that I am a purist. My own garden has a mix of straight species and cultivars bred for a variety of attributes – disease resistance, habit, and yes, color. But these cultivars generally do not change the basic look of the species.

Admittedly, my own feelings are subjective. It boils down to a sense that radically changed plants just don’t look right. I mean, if we could have a 10′ tall climbing Daylily with double blue flowers, would that be a good thing?

And I suspect that if any flower could be blue, blue flowers would cease to seem so special or beautiful.

Blue Star 'Blue Ice'

My argument may rest on thin topsoil, of course. So many domesticated plants, especially the ones we eat, have been radically changed over the centuries. No doubt my attitude is shaped by cultural conditioning of time and place.

So be it. Most people, myself included, react to gardens in an emotional way. What makes a garden satisfying is about feelings, not logic. And blue Chrysanthemums just don’t feel right.

39 Comments on “Should There Be Blue Chrysanthemums?”

  1. I agree, Chrysanthemums should not be blue. Just like roses shouldn’t be (although I believe there is one), and would a blue Tithonia have the same effect on me as the orange ones? No, don’t think so! That photo with the golden rod and aster is lovely. 🙂

  2. I’m with Christina on adding dye to flowers. One point I must raise is that when a plant is bred for larger/double etc flowers, that can impact pollinators, but what about the foliage? If that plant was originally the host to caterpillars, surely they will still feed on it? Since I garden with wildlife in mind, I don’t choose to grow double flowers, however if another gardener happens to prefer double flowers and the leaves of that plant provide sustenance to caterpillars or shelter to mini beasts, then I would rather that they grew that plant than nothing at all.

  3. The whole Franken-plant thing makes me uneasy, too, though many of the chrysanthemums sold in fall in their little tight (and I’m assuming pruned) meatball shape look kind of unnatural to me anyway. So many of the plants now sold in nurseries are foreign and don’t have much to offer the pollinators, since people don’t want a plant whose leaves are chewed up by caterpillars. It is just sad we are going further down that tunnel…

  4. I’m not a fan of what I call fru-fru plants – ones that have been ‘designed’ to meet someone’s artistic vision, but I suspect there can’t be that great a demand for them, so hopefully they will fade out like other fads. I like how you tease us with blue flowers in lovely bloom, but make us think about the artificial construct of blue chrysanthemums. We’ve been messing with changing plants since Mendel went out to his pea patch, and even if we like to think we have control over our gardens, well, mother nature has a way of balancing things out. Thank goodness. Great post.

    • LOL! Being a gardener attracted to the form of species daylilies and old-fashioned hybrids does relegate a member to a small minority in the daylily world. The upside is that the connected world has allowed many of us to find each other.

  5. Blue Mum? Isn’t that a Riesling? What you and I think doesn’t really matter, it’s what people buy that drives the machine. Dyed carnations, spray-painted succulents, and those God awful, weird-ass, alien-looking orchids in unnatural shades of blue wouldn’t continue to crowd the shelves of retailers if people didn’t drag them home. Who thought it would be a good idea to attach dyed straw flowers to cacti using a hot glue gun? On the other hand, if these abominations are an entry drug to a plant addiction that eventually matures out of such things, maybe they’re not entirely heinous. Bring on the Blue Mum, I need a drink.

  6. I’ll take a nice grove of Delphiniums any day to the faux blue that is usually purple or lavender in any case. I remember a mail order catalog from the 80’s (Wayside maybe) that always had this weirdly tinted photo of Aster frikartii, trying to sell it to unsuspecting gardeners as blue.

  7. I don’t support gene splicing so I’m not in favor of the blue mum. And even when we monkey with the breeding of certain plants and animals, the results are often just as bad as they are good. Here’s an example: My mom raised English bulldogs. English bulldogs are a mess because the show standard for an E. bulldog is a short nose and a big head with lots of wrinkles. –These are the traits English bulldog breeders breed for. The result? English bulldogs who can’t birth their babies naturally because the heads are too big to go through the pelvis. English bulldogs who overheat because their noses are short, and they can’t breathe well. English bulldogs with eye problems and infected wrinkles. Not good. (I’m getting off my soap box now.)

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