The marigold (Tagetes erecta)
They're everywhere right now. From florist shops to plant nurseries to your favorite big box store, marigolds are strutting their stuff.
Commonly called African marigold, this member of the daisy family is actually native to North America.
(Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash)
More than just a pretty face
Marigolds are used to make dyes, garlands, and saffron substitutes. Use them raw in salads and to decorate cakes. As a trap plant, fragrant varieties will repel insects and nematodes in your vegetable garden. Folklore claims they can cure hiccups and heal people struck by lightning.
Their seeds were spread around the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, producing numerous hybrids. As a result, these frilly little flowers have different meanings in many places far beyond the Americas.
(Faith McDonald on Unsplash)
Tagetes erecta is the main flower used during the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, honoring the lives of family members and friends who have died. Known as the Flower of the Dead, the marigold is said to attract deceased souls. Graves are often decorated with them, and they adorn private altars, or ofrendas, constructed in honor of those who died during the year. Personal possessions, favorite beverages, fruits, and sugar skulls also adorn the gravesites. Family members frequently construct elaborate marigold tapestries in honor of deceased relatives and friends.
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia)
Tradition says that during Dia de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead visit the living. The scent and vivid colors of the marigolds guide spirits to the altars. Wild marigolds are harvested throughout the Mexican countryside, and truckloads of flowers cultivated especially for the celebration are delivered to towns and cities.
In many gardens south of the border, marigolds symbolize the approach of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and Thanksgiving.
Aztec and Hindu traditions
(photo: Rajeesh Dangi; CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia)
Marigolds were named for the Virgin Mary. Revered by the Aztecs, they are also cultivated throughout India where copious amounts are grown for garlands, wedding decorations, religious events, and festivals. They are a central feature of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. For many, this important celebration signifies the start of the Hindu New Year. One of its most recognizable features are the rows of lanterns and lamps that light up the night.
(Diwali offerings_Diwali Sweets; PJeganathan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
How to grow giant marigolds
Fill a planting tray with moist seed starting mix. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart and press into the mix. Place tray on a waterproof heat mat or anyplace that's between 70-75 degrees F. Cover with plastic dome or plastic wrap.
Seeds will germinate in approximately 7-14 days. Until then, keep the tray moist but never soggy.
Keep the tray moist, but not soggy until the seeds germinate. African marigold seeds germinate in seven to 14 day
After seedlings emerge, remove the covering. Continue to keep plants moist, but not wet.
Move your seedlings to bright indirect sunlight or place under a fluorescent light located about 6 inches above the plants. Every two weeks, fertilize with diluted liquid fertilizer.
When plants have 4-6 true leaves and all danger of frost has passed, pot them individually and move to a protected location outdoors.
For the next week, gradually expose plants to direct sunlight and outdoor temperatures for a few hours each day until they are able to remain outside for 24 hours without signs of stress.
Plant 'Giant Yellow' marigold seedlings 12-18 inches apart in full sun (at least six hours per day) in an area with good drainage. Water well. Plants are drought tolerant once established.
The cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
An easy plant you can grow just about anywhere, cosmos usually blooms quickly.
(Sense-Atelier on Unsplash)
Native to Mexico, this plant was also discovered growing throughout the United States and South Africa.
During the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought large quantities of the flowers from Mexico to Spain. In 1789, seeds were brought to England by the wife of an ambassador. And in the mid-1800's, cosmos flowers were introduced into the United States.
Spanish priests planted large numbers of these flowers in their mission gardens. They were so impressed by the symmetry of the petals, they gave the flower the name kosmos, a Greek word meaning order and harmony of the universe.
(Cosmos 'Purity' photos are my own)
The Greeks believed the world to be in perfect harmony; kosmos represents that orderly world. The flower also symbolizes peace and tranquility.
In the language of flowers, cosmos signifies love and innocence, as well as beauty, balance, modesty, and joy.
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