Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

January 18, 2017: Botany Photo of the Day is being actively worked on. Returning soon!

Tagetes cultivar

Tagetes cultivar

bbum@Flickr, aka Bill from San Jose, California, contributed today's photograph (original image | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Thanks again, Bill – I appreciate the contribution to this month's occasional theme of orange and green (and sometimes white) on BPotD.

I'm not able to tell from this image or Bill's other photographs of this marigold field as to whether these are a cultivar of Tagetes patula or Tagetes erecta, but perhaps someone more expert will make a suggestion. In either case, though, these bright plants have a common name in Mexico that is anything but bright: la flor de la muerte, which translates to “the flower of death” (according to Allan Armitage in his “Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half-Hardy Perennials”). Unfortunately, Dr. Armitage does not explain the reason for that moniker. Speaking of names, I should also note that the common name “marigold” outside of North America often refers to members of the genus Calendula.

Dr. Armitage notes that the roots of some species produce allelopathic compounds, which can suppress certain weeds. For this reason, and the fact that they can also deter some unwanted insects, Tagetes are sometimes used in companion planting.

Botany resource link: Flora brasiliensis is a project to first digitize the 1840-1906 textual work containing nearly 23000 Brazilian species and then update the information. The site can be a little difficult to navigate, but viewing some of the line drawings can be very rewarding (sorry, I'm not able to link to any images directly).


When I was an exchange student in (Santiago de) Queretaro, in the state of Queretaro- in the late 60's- I lived with the family of the general manager of the regional Purina company, which formulated commercial animal feeds. In Mexico, marigold petals are always added to chicken pelleted feed to make the chickens' skin yellow, which is considered to be more appetizing.

"Speaking of names, I should also note that the common name “marigold” outside of North America often refers to members of the genus Calendula"

Calendula is of course the plant originally so named; Tagetes is a later imposter

"In Mexico, marigold petals are always added to chicken pelleted feed to make the chickens' skin yellow, which is considered to be more appetizing"

Would that not be Calendula? Calendula is edible, Tagetes is not:
Maybe they're not poisonous to chickens, but can one be sure the toxins in Tagetes are not retained in the bird along with the colour?

Some more information and bibliographic references in the page Tagetes erecta from the database Plants for a Future: .
It does say that "The petals of the flowers of some varieties can be eaten "...

One major US womans magazine recently published a set of recipes using marigold (the tagetes kind, which incidentally, is the name they are known as in German) flower petals. I would hope that they had their research right! They did recommend one specific cultivar for "having the best taste".

One more link, this time about Tagetes lucida (from a favourite site -Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages)

bad photo, sorry. mm

Marigold- (Tagetes erecta) flor de muerte, the "flower of death" used at funerals and during
Todos Santos in Mesoamerica. It has yellow flowers and exudes material with insecticidal properties.
A close relative of this flower (Tagetes lucida) has a strong anise scent and is used as a substitute for
tarragon. Both species have a chemical component, tagetone, that is mildly biotoxic.
from University of Texas online Flora & Fauna of Middle America

It seems to me this family of flowers originally obtained the common name of "flower of death" back in the days preceding modern funerals, when the dead were normally kept at home without enbalming. These flowers possess a very strong spicy scent used to cover odors. Even now, in such states as Kentucky's rural areas, home funerals are still conducted.

A displaced R.N. [Sheila Pickerill, R.N.]

(michael – not all photographs appeal to all people, or so I've learned along the way – I think the image is a fine study in colour)

I eat the petals of both Tagetes tenuifolia (signet marigold) and Calendula officinalis (pot marigold) in salads. Both are quite tasty. Of pigmenting the flesh of chickens, I could not say, but should I be limiting my intake of tagetone?

Tagetes - Z9 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths

I'm speaking just from observation, but I associate marigolds with the elaborate shrines and grave decorations done by family and loved ones on the Mexican Day of the Dead.

One of the warning signs of tagetone poisoning is a tendency to attempt to work in public education, such as teaching at a university. In severe cases victims may be found trying to curate or administer botanical collections.

Los Dias De Los Muertos (The Days of the Dead) is explained very nicely by Judy King here:

She says of marigolds:
"Flowers, symbolizing the brevity of life, are massed and fashioned into garlands, wreaths and crosses to decorate the altar and the grave. The marigold is the most traditional flower of the season. In Aztec times it was called the cempasuchil, the flower of 400 lives."

"The fragrance of the cempasuchil leads the spirits home. Sometimes paths of the petals lead out of the cemetery and to the house to guide the spirits. A cross of marigold petals is formed on the floor so that as the spirit approaches the alter, he will step on the cross and expel his guilt."

I find it a bit of a chicken or the egg, which came first, sort of quandry. The festival takes place in November when marigold petals are plentiful.

Thank you for the comments, all!

I dont like your flower otay i think you need more INFOMATION Thanks GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I thought marigold (tagetes) petals were fed to chickens to make their egg yolks yellower. Why would anyone try to make chicken meat yellow??

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research
6804 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver, B.C., V6T 1Z4
Tel: 604.822.3928
Fax: 604.822.2016 Email:

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | © Copyright The University of British Columbia