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Isogiku (“Silver and gold” chrysanthemum)

by Linda Inoki
Leaving the house Ten paces — And the vast autumn sea!

By Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), quoted in “Haiku” by R. H. Blyth (Hokuseido Press)

Japanese gardeners produce so many spectacular chrysanthemums in autumn that it is easy to overlook this simple wild species. However, if you are walking near the sea during this season, you may well find some charming wild chrysanthemums growing in the dunes. These go by the name of isogiku, or “silver and gold” chrysanthemum in English ( Ajania pacifica, previously known as Chrysanthemum pacificum ). The plants form neat, low mounds of foliage topped by clusters of small, yellow, buttonlike flowers in late autumn, which provide valuable food for late-season butterflies and bees. It is the foliage, however, that is most eye-catching, because of its neat layers and because each of the pale green leaves is edged in bright silver.In common with many maritime plants, these chrysanthemums must survive baking sunshine, salt-laden winds and sandy ground that rapidly drains rainwater. They manage this by producing leathery leaves and a very active root system (pick off a piece of the stem, stick it in the ground, and see how quickly it takes root!). Although designed for life by the sea, this wild chrysanthemum is also happy in the garden, where it makes attractive, evergreen domes of ground-covering foliage in a sunny rock garden, border or plant pot.