Monday, April 30, 2018

The Marsh Marigold, Herald of Spring

April snow has finally made way for April showers, thank goodness.  We've had a spell of warm weather, and everything has popped up at once!  The spring bulbs are putting up a splendid show, and the earliest native flowers are starting to open for the awakening pollinators.  This year the award for earliest native blooming perennial goes to...


...the lowly Marsh Marigold, aka Caltha palustris.

The Marsh Marigold, which I planted out in my detention pond last year, barely edged out my patch of Sanguinaria for first native blooms of the season.  And what cheerful blooms they are after the winter!  People as well as pollinators can spot the brilliant yellow of the flowers from far away.


The botanical name for Marsh Marigold is very apt, as 'Caltha' means 'goblet' and refers to the shape of the flower, while 'palustris' is Latin for 'of the marsh'.  The Marsh Marigold is actually part of the buttercup family and not a true marigold at all.  As one of the harbingers of spring, Marsh Marigolds have been used throughout history in various spring celebrations.  The nickname 'marigold' refers to its use in medieval church festivals honoring Mary (i.e. 'Mary gold').  In parts of Ireland and the UK, this spring flower was picked on April 30 - the day before May Day - and placed on doorsteps or in mailboxes to keep away evil sprites and fairies.

Marsh Marigold flowers
Here the Marsh Marigold is sometimes also called kingcup or American cowslip.  These names are quite tame, however, compared to some of its many nicknames overseas in the UK.  Just a sampling of nicknames include horse blob, water boots, crowfoot, water dragon, cow lily, drunkards, gools, publicans-and-sinners, and crazy Beth.  I just know there must be some interesting stories behind some of those...


Marsh Marigold is native to the Northern Hemisphere and blooms between early spring and summer, depending on its location.  It is hardy in zones 3-7, and prefers full sun to part shade.  As you might expect, it likes wet soil.  If there is a dry spell or the weather turns hot, the plants might die back and go dormant until the next spring.  It will spread to make large drifts and is easily divided after it blooms.  There are several different varieties and sub-species of Marsh Marigold available, some with pale yellow or white flowers, and some with doubled flowers.

Marsh Marigold with doubled flowers at Garden in the Woods
Some people are allergic to the sap, and all of the plant contains a toxic glycoside, so it should never be eaten raw.  Young leaves are edible after being boiled in a couple changes of water, and young flower buds can be cooked and pickled like capers.  As the plant matures, however, the amount of toxin increases, making it more unpalatable.  Thankfully this toxin also makes it quite resistant to the ever-present deer and rabbits in my yard.


I just enjoy the blooms as the much-welcome heralds of spring that they are.
Happy May Day, and happy Spring!


14 comments:

  1. Such a cheerful bloom! I have one plant growing in a tub hidden away in the back of a border to remind me of those that grew in the creek near our house in Alaska. Hark the herald Marsh Marigolds sing...

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    1. Oh how fun! I don't remember any Marsh Marigolds from when we lived in Alaska, but we didn't have a creek or a wet area where they would grow.

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  2. In our Aberdeen garden Marsh Marigold was the first marginal pond plant to bloom. I did make some reference to it in a post a number of years ago. Certainly not in such interesting detail.

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    1. How nice to have had a pond in your garden! Our detention pond isn't really a proper pond, as the water drains out and dries up in the summer, but I hope at some point it will be sort of a flowering 'muddow'.

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  3. These are so adorable and I have been meaning to plant them in wet areas of my garden.....you reminded me I need to order some in fall to plant. And I love their folklore!

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    1. I just love some of their nicknames! Such a rich history.

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  4. I love the fact that they bloom so early. They dot the low spots with such cheerful color!

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    1. Such a brilliant yellow, the color of spring!

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  5. Hello Indie, they are beautiful.
    What would a garden without the yellows ...
    Love.
    Good start to the month.
    janicce.

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    1. Thank you! Yellow is one of my favorite colors in the garden too.

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  6. A merry spring bloom. Makes me wish for a little pond of my won.

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  7. What lovely little flowers -- I had no knowledge of them before. Thanks for the informative post! Hope you're continuing to enjoy some beautiful spring days, Best, (crazy) Beth

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  8. Hello Indie!
    These flowers are very beautiful.
    Marsh Marigold are wonderful.
    Spring greetings:)

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  9. The flowers do look pretty enough to eat.
    Petals in salad??

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