At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico by Cortes in 1519, the Aztecs dominated Southern North America. They were sophisticated gardeners and knew how to cultivate some of the most colorful annuals we grow today. They considered the marigold to be sacred and used them to decorate their temples. It became their symbol of the Spanish massacre, the red and the yellow representing the blood spilled on the gold the Spaniards seized.
The Portuguese explorers had first found marigolds in Brazil and also took the seeds to India where they soon became the sacred flowers of the Hindus. Seeds also were sent to Northern Africa and one variety grew so well there, it is now named the African Marigold. A dwarf variety found itself in Paris and became known as the French Marigold.
Growing Your Own
The plants range in height from 6 to 36 inches and the flowers can be single or double and of various sizes. All of the warmest colors, yellows, oranges, and dark brownish reds are represented, as well as a more recently developed creamy white. They all need full sun and are easy to grow.
The leaves are ferny and have a pungent aroma, some would describe as an odor, especially if the water in a vase of marigolds is not changed frequently. Strip the stems of their lower leaves before placing the flowers in water. Pinch the young plants to increase branching and dead head religiously for repeat blooms.