On marigolds

Published 12:38 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The humble marigold (Tagetes spp.) has been a part of my life since childhood. I have many memories of my mother planting them along the sidewalk and boarders of the flower beds. As a young child, I delighted in the sound that was made by “popping” off the spent flowers from the plants with my thumb and forefinger. I did not realize then that it was a brilliant guise on my mother’s part to enlist her children in the chore of cleaning up the flowers and encouraging more blooms. The smell left on my fingers was strong and left its mark; I would recognize it anywhere.

Marigolds are generally categorized as French (T. patula), the smallest of the varieties; African or Aztec (T. erecta), the largest of the varieties; and Tripliod (a cross between the French and African variety.)

The earliest recorded history of the marigold can be found in the culture and beliefs of the Aztec people (De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552.) They believed the marigold to have magical, medicinal and religious properties. To this day in Mexico and Latin America the marigold is still used in religious ceremonies.

It is said that the Spanish acquired native marigold seeds from the Aztecs during their conquest of Mexico in the early 1500s. The Spainards brought the seeds to Spain and they were planted in monastery gardens. The flower became very popular in the churches and was referred to as “Mary’s Gold” — the name evolved over time to marigold. From Spain, the marigold was taken to North Africa. It is believed that it was then introduced to England by the corsairs (who helped liberate Tangier from the Moors), thus earning it the common name of African or Aztec Marigold. The smaller variety was taken to England by the French Huguenots in the late 1500s, hence its common name French marigold. It was not until after the Revolutionary War that marigolds were shipped to the states and introduced to American gardeners. So there, folks, is a condensed history of the marigold. Quite the journey for what many consider to be just a common run-of-the-mill annual at the plant nursery.

I believe aside from their beauty, the marigold’s claim to fame is their scent. The scent of the marigold is thought to be very good at deterring pests in the garden. There are many colors and sizes now and the scent has been bred out of some varieties. So choose wisely if pest control in the garden is your goal when planting marigolds.

Marigolds are very easy to propagate from seed and generally are not fussy plants to grow and maintain. To prolong and encourage continual blooms “pop off” the spent flower heads. I always leave some on the plants at the end of the season and harvest the seeds for the next year’s garden. If you plan on harvesting the seeds, keep in mind that the seeds of hybrid marigolds usually do not bloom true to the parent plant. Also the Tripliods do not set seed as they mature.

Dawn Conrad is a columnist for The K-V Dispatch. Her email address is conrad.gardenmuse@gmail.com.