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The Merry Marigolds

The golden beauty of the marigolds cannot be ignored if one is in India. No other flower together spells festivity, decoration, garden-love, good health, religion, and culture even half so well. Marigolds are cultivated as cash crops because of their heavy usage in temples as religious offerings to the deities, in marriage and other festivities for home and location ornamentation, and for pharmacological purposes as well. 

But Marigolds are packages of one surprise after another. Difficult to decipher which is the biggest unexpected fact about them. That they aren’t one flower but rather a complex bouquet of multiple discs and ray florets? That the word marigold refers to not one but several related species? That none of these are of Indian origin? Oh, well. A round of applause for this aromatic herb that packs quite a punch, before we start demystifying it.

Several marigolds belong to the Tagetes genus that is native to the Americas. Tagetes erecta is the Mexican marigold while Tagetes patula is the French marigold. Several hybrids and cultivars of T. erecta, commonly referred to as African Marigolds, are among the commonest in plantations today. These flowers are larger in size. Examples include Giant Double African Orange, Crown of Gold, Giant Double African Yellow, Chrysanthemum Charm, Golden Age, and Cracker Jack. The cultivars and hybrids obtained from T. patula bear smaller flowers, with examples like Rusty Red, Butter Scotch, Red Borcade, Star of India, Lemon drop. Pusa basanti and Pusa narangi are two other popular marigold cultivars. White marigold varieties are also becoming popular.

Marigold plant benefits include being aids in digestion and pain alleviation. Marigold flowers and leaves are actually eaten as savories, either raw or steamed. If eaten raw, they can be freshly consumed or sun-dried. Petals of the marigold are also used to garnish sweetmeats. Marigold tea is a delicate flower tea consumed by connoisseurs; it also alleviates cramps and pains and relaxes and refreshes. 

Some marigold plants are nematode insect-repellants as well and are grown along farm edges when growing Solanaceae veggies.

Marigold plant seeds are hidden in their flowers and they are known to self-seed – that is, they grow back from where they had died when the right season comes. So they do not need to be sown per se if you did it once. This is why marigolds, despite being annual, give the impression of being perennials. Several people ask how to plant marigold seeds – interestingly, these are sturdy seeds and eager-to-sprout flowers. Marigold plant spacing need not be more than a few inches apart. My grandpa always disposed of Hindu temple marigold garlands in a large planter housing a tall Christmas tree, and the marigold herbs grew happily from the decaying garlands. 

Care for the marigold plants is simple – give them the sun and do not overwater the lovelies. If the marigold plant is in the pot, ensure it has a draining hole and the potting mix is not over-clayey.

Since marigold plant size does not exceed two or three feet, it makes for an ideal border plant.

Fun fact –

Marigold is not to be confused with the very British flower Mary’s Gold which is an entirely different species Calendula officinalis.

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