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Smells Like Team Spirit
The southern tradition of homecoming mums has bloomed over the past thirty years.
By Kimberly Mauck
Published September/October 2012
On Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, flowers say, “I love you.” But one of the busiest times of year at Oklahoma flower shops is fall homecoming season, when florists trade fresh flowers for silk chrysanthemums.
So what does a homecoming mum say?
Built on a white silk chrysanthemum, these corsages dripping in knee-length team-color ribbons and festooned with bells and trinkets proclaim, “I love my school.”
Jessica Canaday, an Oklahoma State University senior from Tishomingo, wore mums in high school, when she was a part of the homecoming court.
“School spirit is a southern tradition, and mums go along with that,” she says.
Girls wear the flowers to school on Friday, to the football game that night, and sometimes to a dance afterward. Many then save their mums just as they would athletic trophies or treasured photographs.
It’s not just cheerleaders and homecoming candidates who wear them. Mothers of band members often buy their children mums, and moms of athletes buy them for themselves. Guys even get in on the action, sporting smaller versions on an arm garter.
Florists are the primary provider of mums in Oklahoma, but at some small schools, mums are a fundraiser. At mum parties, teens, parents, and teachers glue and cut late into the nights preceding homecoming.
At Wetumka High School, mums have been a tradition for more than sixty years, says Rhonda Parker. Parker is the mother of three Wetumka graduates and has helped make mums for twenty-five years.
“I enjoy it; I love being with the kids,” she says. “My youngest son graduated this year, but if they call me to help, I will.”
According to Jim Taylor, owner of Marlow Floral, homecoming mums are a tradition practiced mainly in Oklahoma and Texas and in small towns throughout the South. The tradition began when homecoming became a fall rite in the 1920s. Young athletes would present their sweethearts a corsage made with the fall flower, backed by a few curls of ribbon.
The chrysanthemum is a long-lasting flower, good for prepping corsages a few days in advance. It is also delicate, its tissue-thin petals easily falling off or crushed by all the added decorative touches.
Jackie Ledford, owner of Alex Florist in Alex, remembers those days.
“We dripped hot wax on their backs, ran wires through the stems, and refrigerated them for twenty-four hours,” she says. “Even then, they might fall apart.”
The 1980s saw silk flowers replace the real article. This, coupled with the decade’s proclivity for big, loud fashion, transformed mums from delicate corsages to bright proclamations of individuality.
“The gaudier, the better,” says Karen Nunley, a florist at Nita’s Flowers & Gifts in Marlow. “They get gaudier every year.”
The options for embellishing a mum are myriad: cowbells, megaphones, mascots, footballs, rabbit’s feet, stuffed animals, and strands of beads.
“Trends come and go, but there will always be mums in small southern towns,” Canady says. And they will always be in the closets of young women and men who have fond memories of their high school days.
Get There: Homecoming mums range in price from $18 to $60. Custom mums are available at Marlow Floral (119 West Main Avenue in Marlow, 580/658-3479 or marlowfloral.com), Nita’s Flowers & Gifts (114 West Broadway Street in Marlow, 580/658-2714 or nitasflowersandgifts.com), and Alex Florist (115 South Main Street in Alex, 405/785-9801).