Cultivated in China and Japan for over 2500 years, chrysanthemums, members of the Asteraceae family, come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes that it takes thirteen different categories of petal formations to organize them. They range from simple daisy-like forms to small pompoms to large, nearly circular balls that resemble balloons and exotic spider types that look like fireworks on a stem (Hogan 374-5). The name, invented by Linnaeus, means Golden Flower and refers to the yellow disks sometimes hidden at the center of the collection of florets that make up the full blossom. Currently second only to roses in popularity as cut flowers, according to the National Chrysanthemum Society, USA, they are “one of the longest lasting of all cut flowers.” 
Looking at Woolf’s chrysanthemums chronologically, it is easy to see a pattern in which they evolve from decorative accents to more somber and satiric uses. Her first chrysanthemums appear in her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), some “tight little” flowers which Helen Ambrose removes from a vase as she exclaims over how badly “servants treat flowers!” (VO 15) While it is not quite clear what the servants did to the flowers, whether it was not conditioning them properly or arranging them carelessly, the buds in their unopened state seem to mirror the situation of Rachel Vinrace: inexperienced, removed from a nurturing environment, and destined to be cut off before their prime.
About this same time, a definite satiric tone begins to be associated with chrysanthemums, as though their decorative use had become clichéd and ostentatious. An account of Leonard Woolf’s mother’s birthday party in October of 1930 emphasizes the lack of originality: “so much like cuts off one long yard of cake—slice after slice; no beauty, no eccentricity. We stood about in the private room, with bunches of chrysanthemums tied up in orange sashes” (l4 241). A year later, Woolf gently teases Ethyl Smyth about the accolades she is receiving for a radio broadcast of her opera The Wreckers: “And I suppose you sit triumphant answering letters by the score, and receiving laurel wreaths, harps made of chrysanthemums” (L4 384).
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