Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Marigolds are one of the first flowers I remember growing from seed. I recall collecting the dried flowers to use the seeds for the next year's garden. But sometime during high school, I forgot about marigolds. I thought they were too boring. I wanted the exotic, unique plants staring at me from the seed catalogs. Anything was more exciting to me at that time besides marigolds.
Lo and behold a good portion of my annuals include marigolds this year. Why the change of heart? Well, in searching for a tough, reliable true orange and yellow annual, I kept coming back to marigolds. Planting them in great masses creates a nonstop splash of color that's hard to beat. Right now I have a plain beige house with no landscaping. I'm dying to see some instant color!
I've paired yellow marigolds with hot pink zinnias and petunias for a jolt of color my yard desperately needs. One side of my lot borders 'Illini Court' so I felt compelled to plant orange marigolds and blue salvia.
Did you know that U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen of Pekin, Illinois crusaded to make the marigold the national flower? Since September 1972, Pekin has honored their favorite son with the Marigold Festival. While unsuccessful in his efforts to get national notoriety for the marigold, the Marigold Festival continues each September, complete with a Miss Marigold Pageant.
Little did I realize back in high school, but marigolds are quite exotic. They originate from Central America, and the Portuguese brought them to Europe and India in the 16th century. Marigolds play a key role in Indian culture and religion, so they make up a large percentage of the fresh flower industry in India. The flowers may be used to dye fabrics, and they are commonly used to color food.
The flowers are also a source of carotenoids (vitamin A and derivatives) and extracts may be used in some nutritional supplements. Research has also shown insecticidal and anti-fungal properties in marigold plant extracts. There really is a lot more to marigolds than meets the eye!