Pot marigolds and marigolds are two different flowers available to the home gardener. They are often confused by novice home gardeners due to similar flower blooms. Both are safe for human consumption. The distinction of the two is important for those who do companion planting or plan their flower gardens.
Pot marigolds are part of the Calendula genus. They are native to southern Europe, but have been naturalized throughout Europe, and in areas where they’ve been planted in temperate climates. They are a perennial, but are grown as an annual in cooler climates. The flowers are yellow or a combination of yellow and shades of orange, with a brown or black center. The plants have long, oblong, green leaves with tiny hairs. The flower heads bloom throughout the summer and fall when given the right conditions. The seeds are shaped like boomerangs with teeth. The do well in humid and temperate climates.
Pot marigold is a trap plant or lure for cabbage, Setaceous Hebrew character, large yellow underwing, and gothic caterpillars and moths. Pot marigolds are usually not grown in a vegetable garden because they attract detrimental pest species to the garden. They are planted in herb gardens or in trap gardens to distract pests away from the main garden.
The flowers of the pot marigold are edible, and the ones with bright yellow blooms are used as a saffron alternative in Mediterranean and Indian cuisines. The bright flowers were used during ancient times to dye fabrics and color cosmetics. It has been used as an herb for centuries, and is seeing a renaissance in use with people who use complementary medicine. Its herbal oil form is one of the few that can safely be applied directly to skin, making it a good base for cosmetics, lotions, and salves. It is known for healing properties that reduce inflammation, and is often found in rash preparations.
Marigolds, however, are part of the Compositae genus, and are relatives of the aster. They are native to Central and South America. It is an annual, and usually blooms within 50 days of planting. It usually only blooms once per season. Its blooms are in the yellow, red, orange and cream families, and has green fern-like leaves. The seeds look like black arrows with tan feathers. Marigolds prefer hot and drier areas, and are prone to powdery and gray mildew as well as root rot.
There are four main types of marigolds: French (petite flowers), African (large flowers), triploids (French and African cross), and single (most common). Marigolds have a strong, pleasant scent, and their dried petals are used by home gardeners to make potpourri. They are a favorite among companion planters in vegetable gardens. Marigolds deter harmful insects and microscopic worms from the garden and soil for up to three years after planting. They are also used to deter deer and rabbits from entering the garden for a snack.
The petals of the marigold are edible, and can also be used to give the “saffron” color to a dish. The subspecies Tagetes lucida is referred to as "Mexican mint" and "Texas tarragon." It can be substituted for French tarragon in recipes, and has a hint of anise flavor. The Tagetes lucida is also used to make tea in Central America, and is used as one of the symbolic flowers for Day of the Dead.
Both pot marigold and marigolds have a place in the home garden. It is important to know the distinction so as to not cause undue problems to the garden. Both of them are edible, and have special properties that the home gardener can enjoy beyond their beautiful blooms.