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Featured Plant

Tagetes Lemmonii


Scientific Name: Tagetes lemmonii

Common Names: Lemmon's Marigold

Family: Asteraceae

Plant Type: Shrubby perennial.

Environment: Plant in sun or part shade in a well-drained soil. Drought tolerant in coastal gardens but does best with a little water. Damaged by frost, but can be cut back to remove damaged growth or correct shape. Tends to be short-lived.

Bloom: Fall through winter, however flowering is triggered by short day length so overcast weather can also extend flowering into spring and summer, especially at SFBG with its foggy summers.

Uses: Loosely branched shrub, 3-6 feet tall and wide, attracts butterflies and bees.

Other: Some people enjoy the pungent aroma of this plant, likened to the scent of marigold mixed with lemon and mint, others find the smell quite unpleasant.



Tagetes Lemmonii

In the Garden of Fragrance a shrubby four foot high marigold, Tagetes lemmonii, is in almost constant bloom year round, covered with golden daisy-like flowers. Its deeply divided aromatic leaves fill the air with a pleasant pungent odor. 

John and Sara Lemmon, husband and wife and well known field botanists in the 19th century, discovered this species of Tagetes growing in Arizona at elevations from 5000 to 8000 feet, while camping there on their honeymoon in 1880. They sent a cutting to Asa Gray, the renowned botanist at Harvard, to identify. He named it after them. They were passionate about discovering plants as they travelled in the western states, and brought this species of marigold back to their garden in Oakland. From there it was eventually introduced to the nursery trade. 

Its native range extends from Arizona to the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. Its natural habitat in the wild is moist canyon grasslands and woodlands, sometimes near streams. 

Other common names used for Tagetes lemmonii are Copper Canyon Marigold, Mountain Marigold and Mexican Marigold. When Cortez conquered the Aztec nation in 1552, the Spaniards plundered the magnificent gardens of Montezuma, and took many strange new plants back to Spain to establish in their monastery gardens. Hundreds of hybrids of Tagetes were developed and spread worldwide over the centuries. France claims its French Marigolds and South Africa, its African Marigolds, but the true origin of marigolds is Mexico. 

In 1905 Burpee Seed Company in America became synonymous with growing marigolds. They were the easiest of all the seeds listed in their catalogue to grow and demanded little attention. One million Burpee catalogues were distributed in America in that period. 

The brilliancy of color and the sturdiness of their flowers make Marigolds wildly popular for use in celebrations all over the world. Annual marigolds are often planted in vegetable gardens as the chemicals in their leaves discourage nematodes and white flies. Their musky odor discourages deer, yet bees and butterflies are attracted to their flowers. 


IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text: Kathy McNeil. Photos: Joanne Taylor, Mona Bourell.