The History of Marigolds - 27 East

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The History of Marigolds

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These mahogany and gold marigolds are bedding types that are available in heights from 8 to 12 inches. Most are good for pollinators, but watch for spider mites on the foliage when the summer gets hot and dry. ANDREW MESSINGER

These mahogany and gold marigolds are bedding types that are available in heights from 8 to 12 inches. Most are good for pollinators, but watch for spider mites on the foliage when the summer gets hot and dry. ANDREW MESSINGER

Fully double marigolds like these are available in varieties that grow from eight to over 15 inches tall.  While very versatile, these

Fully double marigolds like these are available in varieties that grow from eight to over 15 inches tall. While very versatile, these "doubles" cannot be considered good for pollinators as most do not produce nectar or pollen. ANDREW MESSINGER

As we get later into the season, large pots of taller marigolds will show up at garden centers. These appeal to weekenders who want instant size and color but you have to pay dearly for the large, established plants. ANDREW MESSINGER

As we get later into the season, large pots of taller marigolds will show up at garden centers. These appeal to weekenders who want instant size and color but you have to pay dearly for the large, established plants. ANDREW MESSINGER

Marigold seeds (top left and right corners) are about a half inch long and easy to handle. When sown at home in cell packs late in the spring, they make great late-planted plants that will bloom later in the summer until frost. You can also direct sow them in the garden, and now’s the time. ANDREW MESSINGER

Marigold seeds (top left and right corners) are about a half inch long and easy to handle. When sown at home in cell packs late in the spring, they make great late-planted plants that will bloom later in the summer until frost. You can also direct sow them in the garden, and now’s the time. ANDREW MESSINGER

Marigolds.  BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Marigolds. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Marigolds.  BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Marigolds. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Marigolds.  BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Marigolds. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

Here’s a short gardening quiz: What plant is native to the New World, a sacred flower of the Aztecs and had to cross the Atlantic twice before it was used ornamentally 3,000 miles north of its center of origin?

We use them by the billions every year as bedding plants, and I’ll give you a hint: A seed company paid $10,000 for the first white one.

Carnations, petunias? No it’s the good old reliable, maligned as pedestrian, marigold. This plant is widely used and little understood but among the hardiest and most varied of garden annuals and just possibly the easiest annual that you can grow on your own from seed.

Marigolds are native to the Americas from Argentina north to New Mexico and Arizona. The earliest use of marigolds was by the Aztec people who attributed magical, religious and medicinal properties to them. The first recorded use of marigolds was found in the De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552. The Herbal records the use of Tagetes lucida for treatment of hiccups, being struck by lightning, or “for one who wishes to cross a river or water safely.” The last use confirms the magical properties ascribed to Tagetes. The Aztecs named their native flower cempoalxochitl and bred it for increasingly large blooms. It is suspected that in the 1500s, native marigold seeds were taken from the Aztecs by early Spanish explorers back to Spain.

The marigolds were cultivated in Spain and grown in monastery gardens. From Spain, marigold seeds were transported to France and northern Africa. The taller marigolds, now called African or American, became naturalized in North Africa. During a 1535 expedition to Tunis, the tall naturalized marigolds were observed and mistaken for native wildflowers. Seed was collected and once again taken to Spain. The newly collected marigold was named Flos africanus due to its mistaken origin.

The tall marigolds were widely known by that name well into the 1700s. This was a classic case of error in origin. The name Tagetes has unusual origins as well, tracing back to the revered Italian god Tages. A grandson of Jupiter, Tages came forth from a clod of earth as a wise and handsome boy. So the American native marigold is commonly called French or African, but the genus name Tagetes refers to an Italian god.

Marigolds figure prominently in many religious ceremonies. In Mexico and Latin America, marigold flowers are used to decorate household altars to celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Flower heads are scattered on relatives’ graves, which can account for the profusion of marigolds in cemeteries.

Marigolds are also used in Hindu religious ceremonies. Research indicates the Indian “gendha” to be the T. erecta species. An account in 1963 describes the marigold being used as garlands to decorate village gods during the harvest festival. The traveler recalling the festival also noted the maize and peppers were exactly the same shade of orange-yellow as the marigold. It was as though the corn and peppers were selected or bred to match the marigold flower color. “Gendha” is also reported to be used as a yellow cloth dye in India and Pakistan.

Several hundred years after their initial journey from the Americas to Europe and Africa, marigolds were introduced back to American gardeners. This reunion of sorts did not happen until shortly after the Revolutionary War. Marigolds were just one of many plants shipped to the young country from overseas.

In the early 1900s, sweet peas and asters were the most popular flowers in the United States. Yet both of them were becoming beleaguered by disease and declining overall performance. The time was right for a “new” flower to make its debut. In 1915 David Burpee took over the seed company that was founded by his father, William Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and to fund some marigold research.

Since the 1920s, marigold breeding has developed hundreds of new varieties. The odorless marigolds, hybrids and triploids have all been advancements in breeding. In the last 50 years most of the research, new varieties, and seed production has been accomplished by American breeders and seed companies. Somehow it seems fitting that the marigold would find the breeding emphasis and popularity back in the Americas, its center of origin.

Tagetes patula, the “French marigold,” is a dwarf, compact plant species containing the widest color range of marigolds. The flowers can be pure or solid orange, yellow, gold or mahogany red. The color diversity expands with bicolors or two colors per flower. Bicolors such as orange and gold, mahogany red and yellow offer a spectrum of color combinations. Petals can be edged with a contrasting color or the color can be placed at the petal base. A clue to identification can be noted here. If you observe a mahogany red bloom, it is a French marigold. The mahogany red color is not available in the T. erecta, L. species.

The French marigold flower form has been divided into five distinct types. The single flower form is the easiest to identify. There are five to eight overlapping petals in a single layer. These are called ray petals. There is a small central disc or tuft of stamens and pistils, the reproductive plant parts. The anemone flower form contains broad, flattened petals, again overlapping. There are more rows of petals surrounding the central disc and are described as semi-double. The anemone flower form has recently received attention from many breeding programs.

The carnation flower form or fully double has numerous rows of overlapping petals. There can be a small central disc. This was the most common French marigold flower form in the 1960s and 1970s.

The crested flower form is subdivided into double- and single-crested. The crest or central disc petals are the dominant feature in either flower form. The center contains numerous short petals tightly clustered. Surrounding this crest are the ray petals, broader and flatter. If there is only one row of ray petals surrounding the crest it is considered a single-crested flower form. If there are three or four rows of ray petals, it is a double-crested French marigold. There have been many recent introductions in the double-crested flower form. At this time, there are no hybrid French marigolds.

In the garden, the T. patula marigolds are considered dwarf French. They range in height from 6 to 14 inches when mature. A gardener can choose from 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches for flower size. This species is the most popular of all marigolds. Easy to grow under most weather and soil types, French marigolds are reliable annuals.

T. erecta, African or American marigolds, are the species characterized by larger leaf size and larger flowers than T. patula. The flower forms are either semi-double or fully double. The semi-double flowers have fewer rows of ray petals than fully double. The size of the flower is the dominant feature. A small flower is 3 inches across. The larger flowers are 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches. The colors are solid; no bicolors occur in this species. The color range is from white and cream to primrose, yellow, gold and orange. There are many F1 hybrid T. erecta cultivars available to home gardeners. Since they are hybrids, they express hybrid vigor by producing numerous flowers on uniform plants with a long flowering season.

Due to the height, most gardeners place T. erecta in the back of a bed or massed in an individual planting area. The plant height at maturity can be 9 inches for a dwarf variety or up to 28 inches for taller types, but the tallest varieties attain a height of 38 to 40 inches and also have longer flower stems suitable for cutting. The T. erecta marigolds are versatile. Fewer plants are required in a garden bed to create the desired result, lavish annual color. Space the plants further apart, 12 to 18 inches or more depending upon the mature height. The marigold plants will fill in the space between them.

T. erecta species are day-length sensitive. Each cultivar varies in the response to day length. If a home gardener is growing T. erecta from seed sown after March 1 and wants earlier flowering plants, a short-day treatment can be applied. Just cover small seedlings with a light-proof cover at 4 p.m. and remove at 8 a.m. This treatment can be applied for two weeks.

Triploids, or 3n hybrids, are a wide cross between the African (American) and French species. The cross between species results in a plant that is sterile, unable to reproduce and not great for pollinators. Since the triploid is not capable of setting seed, the plant produces more flowers and never needs deadheading. This characteristic is significant when compared to T. patula. Most T. patula plants will decrease flowering under hot summer temperatures. It is called heat stress, and shy blooms are the result. The triploid marigolds are not subject to heat stress and continue blooming prolifically regardless of the heat.

The triploid blooms are 2 to 2 1/2 inches. Mature garden height can be 10 to 16 inches. The flower form on triploids can be single, double or semi-double. The color range is similar to T. patula with solid colors and bicolor designs. Triploid seed germination is less than T. patula germination. The first triploid marigold was introduced in 1939. There have been many triploids introduced, improvements in flower size and compact plant habits. Triploids are capable of literally covering the plant with blooms.

Next week: Growing and caring for marigolds, which are, by the way, somewhat drought tolerant. Something to consider when dry, hot summers are forecast — hint, hint. Keep growing.

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