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May 15, 2007 > Marigolds


By Pat Kite

Marigolds have a plethora of long-ago common names, including horse blob, king cups, butterwort, gold flower, yolk of egg, shining herb and Indian button holes. Marigolds can confuse since they have not one, but two botanical names: Tagetes and Calendula. Because I just bought a 6-pack ofmahogany and yellow striped Tagetes, let's putt from there. First, marigolds are mostly annuals. Put them in a sunny spot and donate some water so they don't immediately die of thirst. Unless you want to feed the snails and slugs the same night, scatter snail pellets or similar. Otherwise you don't have to do anything besides regularly water, then enjoy the bright colors which include red, brown and orange, some solid hues, some striped, all lively.

In the Middle Ages, marigolds had all sorts of uses. Considered a remedy for common illnesses, the long-ago garden scribe Culpepper [1616-1654] wrote: "A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog's grease, turpentine, and rosin," was supposed to ease "pestilential" fevers. It makes one thankful for modern aspirin and similar.

On the garden front, some organic garden texts state planting French marigolds encourages potato, tomato and rose growth. However don't plop French marigolds next to beans, as this slows growth. This marigold's roots also give off a substance reputed to discourage Mexican bean beetles, aphids, cabbage maggots, whiteflies and corn earworms. I just plant marigolds because they are pretty, but the above might be an interesting experiment for some science class.

There are several tales about how marigolds got the Latin name "Tagetes." I like this one. But first you must learn a new word: haruspicy. This word doesn't seem to exist anymore, but at one time it apparently was the art ofaugury or foretelling the future by examining animal entrails, or intestines. The ancient Greeks always examined entrails before deciding what to do in war and politics [somewhat similar to today's methodologies]. Anyhow, it seems an Etruscan fellow named Tages was the grandson of the Roman deity Jupiter. Tages was so adept at this haruspicy forecasting that he got a plant named after him.

Tagetes are native to Mexico and South America. They were discovered by the Spanish military during their ambitious voyages. In Mexico one tale goes that before Hernando Cortes [1485-1547] and his men came "to their land of gold," marigolds were unknown. But for each native killed, a great colony of "flor de muerto" grew on the site, a constant reminder. Cortez brought marigold samples home to Spain. From Spain, one variety, Tagetes erecta, went to Africa, eventually to England where it became the "African marigold." Another variety, Tagetes patula, made its way to Paris, France became quite popular, and was monikered "French marigold." These pretty flowers with their aromatic leaves are garden decorative. Size ranges from 6 inches to small shrub, depending on species or type. Put them where you can see and enjoy from summer to late fall.

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