A Marigold Is More Than a “Stinker” by Pat Bost

The marigold is known as a flower with a pungent scent. In the family Asteraceae, there are two types of marigolds: Tagete and Calendula. Calendula, commonly known as the pot marigold, can be eaten. It is even known as the poor man’s saffron. In many cultures it is used as an herbal remedy, especially for cosmetic treatment of skin related problems. Most tagetes are toxic. The “stinky” reputation is due to turpene, which is produced in small sacs on leaves. Because it is “stinky” it is used in gardens as a rabbit and pest repellent and as a touch of bright color. In NM State Guide H-169, it is more kindly listed as an Insectary Plant (one to help sustain beneficial insects, increase their life span and their level of egg production). Marigolds are easy to grow. Seed in average well-drained, moist soil in a sunny place after frost danger passes. With deadheading blooming can continue until the next frost.

Festivals featuring the flower were noted as far back as the Aztecs period in Mexico. Discovered in Central America in the 16th century they were spread throughout the world by early colonists, especially the Portuguese and Spanish. It is featured in national festivals, religious ceremonies and weddings. An annual five- day Marigold Festival is held in Pekin, Illinois honoring Senator Everett Dirksen who championed the marigold for the national flower. He noted its virtues and described it as:

“... sprightly as the daffodil, as colorful as the rose, as resolute as the zinnia, as delicate as the carnation, as haughty as the chrysanthemum, as aggressive as the petunia, as ubiquitous as the violet, and as stately as the is native to America....and common to every state in the Union.“

A long-time favorite self-seeding annual, and our October birth flower, it was not voted in as our national bloomer in spite of its distinguished supporter. The rose won.


Cole, Gloria, “Marigold: Flower of the Aztecs”, Dave’s Garden, 2013.

Grasswitz, Tessa R., “Using Insectary Plants to Attract and Sustain Beneficial Insects for Biological Pest Control”, NMState University Guild H-169

Forney, Julie Martens, “14 Stinky Plants”, HGTV Urben Oasis

Safire, William ed., Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, “Senator Everett Dirksen Extols the Marigold”, pg 566.