Marigolds: Blooms of Cultural Significance

Marigolds, with their vibrant hues and delicate petals, have long been cherished in gardens worldwide. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these humble flowers carry a profound cultural significance in various societies. Marigolds have become emblematic of a rich tapestry of customs and traditions, from their role in traditional ceremonies and festivals to their practical use as natural pest repellents. In this blog, we’ll not only delve into the world of marigolds and their cultural importance but also offer insights on how to grow them, fostering a deeper connection between humanity and these beautiful blossoms.


Two men inspecting yellow marigold flowers
Two UF Researchers inspecting marigolds.

The availability of French and African Marigolds are readily accessible today, it’s important to mention that all marigolds trace their origins back to Subtropical America. Various historical sources suggest that marigolds have been under cultivation for over two millennia within Subtropical America region. However, in the 16th century, marigold seeds were transported from Mexico to Europe, initially introduced in Spain. This marked the beginning of marigolds’ journey across continents, as their popularity gradually extended to Africa and, subsequently, to India. Over the ensuing years, marigolds underwent selective breeding to produce larger blooms in various colors. Simultaneously, their cultural significance witnessed a remarkable upsurge in numerous regions across the globe.

Cultural Importance

Marigolds in Mesoamerica

Through their origins, the roots of marigolds’ cultural significance can be traced. In their origin land, the Aztecs were pioneers in cultivating these flowers, known by their original name, “cempasúchil” or the “flower of 400 lives,” a reference to their profusion of petals. Marigolds held a multifaceted role in Aztec culture, serving as a medicinal resource and a central element in various rituals and decorative arrangements. Notably, the Aztecs believed that the pungent aroma and vibrant colors of marigolds had the power to beckon the souls of their departed loved ones back to their homes, adding a poignant and spiritual dimension to their cultural significance.

Marigold’s influence in Europe.

During the 16th century, marigolds (Tagetes ssp) were introduced to Europe, initially originating in Spain and spreading across the continent. These marigolds bore a striking resemblance to calendula, a European orange daisy. Calendula, often offered by peasants to the Virgin Mary and placed in her hands due to their vibrant golden hues, earned the nickname “Mary’s Gold” and eventually became known as “Marigold.” Following their introduction, the popularity of Tagetes surged, eventually eclipsing that of calendula as the preferred “marigold.” In the Victorian Era, the practice of Floragraphy emerged, which involved using flowers to discreetly convey messages, with marigolds being used to express emotions like grief, sorrow, despair, and jealousy.

Marigolds Travel East to Asia

In the ensuing years, marigolds gained popularity in the East. Upon arriving in India, their bright yellow blossoms were swiftly assimilated into the local culture. In stark contrast to the negative connotations attached to marigolds by the Victorians, Indian culture embraced them as symbols of the sun, passion, wealth, and happiness. They became an integral part of weddings and the celebration of Diwali.

Día de los Muertos

Candles with Cempasuchil orange flowers or Marigold. (Tagetes erecta) and Papel Picado. Decoration is traditionally used in altars for the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico

In Central America, the Catholic Church aimed to convert indigenous people. However, one tradition remained unaltered – a month-long festival dedicated to Mictēcacihuātl, the Aztec Goddess linked to the ruler of the underworld. This tradition honored deceased loved ones with ofrendas resembling them, inviting their spirits to visit during the festivities.

Unable to halt this tradition, the church integrated it, aligning it with All Saints Day, renaming it Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. This celebration now occurs on November 1st and 2nd, growing in popularity over the years. It still revolves around commemorating the departed with ofrendas, parties, and parades, and marigolds play a significant role. Their vibrant colors and scent are believed to guide the souls to their family’s ofrenda. Marigold petals are scattered to create pathways to these adorned offerings.

Growing Marigolds


Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon flowers.

Marigolds are some of the easiest annuals to grow in a Florida garden. Their bright colored flowers are great at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  There are many different types of marigolds available.  Three of those will be discussed: French, African, and Tagetes lucida.  French Marigolds are perhaps one of the more popular of the marigolds.  This is because of its compact growth (10-12 inches) and smaller flowers.  They can be grown year-round.  African Marigolds, Tagetes erects, is a much larger marigold reaching 1-3 feet and flowers that can get 2-3 inches in diameter.  African Marigolds are best planted in the spring.  Tagetes lucida is the only marigold that is used for culinary purposes.  It is commonly called Mexican tarragon due to its anise fragrance that is comparable to French tarragon, an herb that doesn’t do well in Florida.  It grows into a 2-3 foot bush and can be grown year-round in Florida.  A freeze can kill it to the ground, but it can come back.  It produces a profusion of small yellow flowers.

Starting and site selection

Woman is holding flowers in pots, looking at camera and smiling while standing in a nursery.
Marigolds are a popular plant that can add vibrant colors to a garden.

Marigolds can be started from seed or purchased as plants.  If one is looking for interesting varieties, starting from seed is the best way.  Seeds typically germinate in one week.  Once they are a few inches tall, they can be easily transplanted. This is one of the few plants that can be planted a little deeper than in the pot, especially if they are leggy (tall with few leaves).  They should be planted in an area with at least 6 hours of sunlight. While they can tolerate drought conditions, occasional watering during the dry months will benefit these plants.

Marigolds and Pests

Generally speaking, marigolds have few pest problems. Spider mites, leafminers, and slugs are the primary insect problems for marigolds.  Be sure to look for changes in the color of the leaf, eaten leaves, and slime trails.  Spider mites can be taken care of by the use of horticultural soap or oil or neem oil.  Slug bait is available for slug control.


Marigolds are known to produce a substance called alpha-terthienyl which is shown to reduce the population of  root-knot nematode and other problematic soil born pests.  However, research has shown that in order to be effective a dense cover crop should be planted 2 months before installation of nematode susceptible annuals.  Marigolds planted as companion plants were shown not to have a large effect dealing with nematodes.

Marigolds make a wonderful enhancement to any residential garden. They introduce a vibrant burst of color and hold significance in various cultural traditions. They are low-maintenance and not prone to pest issues, making them a convenient choice for gardeners. Moreover, they can be cultivated throughout the year.


Posted: October 26, 2023

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Horticulture
Tags: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Julio Perez, Marigolds, Putnam County

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