Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mexican Marigold

Open afresh your round of starry folds
Ye ardent marigolds

The French Republican calendar lists the flower for Fructidor 19 as tagette, the Mexican marigold, (tagetes erectus) I believe to distinguish it from that other wonderful flower which is sometimes also called a marigold, the pot marigold or calendula (calendula officinalis). Both are blooming here in Seattle, but I’m going to focus on tagetes.

The common name marigold, comes from Mary’s Gold, and is a reference to the Virgin Mary but it seems like the marigold got this name after it came to Europe, because of its similarity to the calendula in color and shape.

Popular in India, where it is raised to be used in religious rituals, it is known in Sanskrit as sthulapushpa and in Hindi as gendha. In Mexico, where it has been cultivated for 2,000 years, it is known as cempasĂșchil, which comes from a Nahuatl term meaning “twenty flower.” It is the flower of the Dead and used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations on November 2.

I always plant marigolds in my garden, partly because I’ve been told they’re great companion plants. I plant them around my basil which seems to be flourishing. Besides I love the way the leaves smell. I always hope they will make it through to the end of October so I can use them on my Days of the Dead altar but they rarely last that long in Seattle because a frost kills them. But they are at their prime right now. In fact they are bearing so many flowers that I have a quandary every time I go to my garden. I don’t want to cut them as they don’t last well as cut flowers but I know that cutting them will help them create more blooms. So I alternate between ignoring them, clipping off the spent blossoms and bringing them home to put in a green Chinese vase on the altar we’ve made to honor Chester the Dog.

Marigolds range in color form yellow, orange, red and mahogany and also come in stripes. I had no idea until I started researching this article of the many different varieities of marigolds. African marigolds (tagetes erectus) are sometimes called American marigolds. They can grow as tall as 36 inches and have flowers 5 inches across, although there are dwarf varities. They bloom from midsummer to frost. French marigolds (tagetes patula) are small, bushy plants with smaller flowers and they start blooming earlier in the year. They do better in rain than the African marigolds. Then there are other marigolds including:
signet marigolds (tagetes tenuifolia) that have lacy, lemon-scented foliage and edible flowers that have a spicy tarragon flavor
tangerine scented marigold (tagetes lemonii) a Southwestern variety with leaves that smell like lemon and mint
Spanish tarragon (tagetes lucida) anise-flavored with simple flowers
Irish lace (tagetes filifolia) with tiny white flowers and lacy leaves.
I learned about these varieties at this web site:

Brent Elliott says that both the so-called African and French marigolds (Tagetes erectus and patula, respectively) are South American in origin and their names simply reflect their gateways into Europe. They are members of the compositae or aster family, like sunflowers and chrysanthemums. This website, backyardnature.net, provides a lovely breakdown of the technical features of a marigold to help you identify them:

There’s a whole web site devoted to marigolds in India which I found as a link from Wikipedia:
Marigolds were introduced into India in the 16th century and became very popular.

Now I know what to do with all my blossoms—I can freeze them in ice cubes. I can also, by boiling the flowers, then leaving them in the water overnight, produce a yellow dye which I can use to splash people on the Indian holiday of Holi or to color cloth. Most of the marigolds grown in India are strung into garlands and used to adorn religious statues and as offerings at funerals, weddings and other ceremonies. They are also used to mark sacred space, placed around temples and lining sacred fire pits.

The Wikipedia article on tagetes erecta provides information on the use of the flower in Mexico and it’s the source of the lovely photo:

Connolly in his book on Table Flowers shows a vibrant table set with an Indian theme with calendula, zinnia and marigold blossoms floating in water in shallow bowls or set on napkins. It’s a wonderful look I might try for my harvest table.

In the language of the flowers, the African marigold means vulgar minds and the French marigold jealousy while the Calendula means pain, grief, despair and cruelty.

Connolly, Shane, Table Flowers, Trafalgar Square Publishing 1996
Elliott, Brent, An Illustrated History of the Garden Flower, Royal Horticultural Society 2001
Seaton, Beverly, The Language of the Flowers: A History, University of Virginia Press 1995


kerrdelune said...

Lovely - there is a large pot of marigolds on the front steps of the little blue house and another of bronze mums.

Porch Days said...

Thanks for a factual article full of links. I must return and read your older posts. Looks like lots of great information!