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Master Gardener Journal  


M E E T   T H E   N A T I V E S



Mt. Lemmon Marigold: Blanket of Sunshine

by Copper Bittner,
Master Gardener


Botanical Name:
Tagetes lemmonii

Common Names:
Mt. Lemmon marigold, Copper Canyon daisy, mountain marigold, Mexican bush marigold

Tagetes lemmonii is a member of the family Asteraceae, along with the common bedding plant, marigold. It is a Sonoran desert native, and as such it is found from the canyons of central and southern Arizona and extends into northern Mexico.

TagetesMt. Lemmon marigold is an upright, evergreen, perennial shrub that reaches about 3 feet in height with a spread of up to 6 feet. It is hardy to 20°F, and grows fairly quickly. Once established it needs only a deep weekly irrigation during the summer months, and unlike other marigolds it doesn't seem to attract spider mites.

T. lemmonii has 1-inch composite daisy-like flowers. They develop mostly in the spring and late fall, and if the plant does not sustain frost damage, flowering may continue into the winter. At the height of the bloom period, the foliage all but disappears beneath a solid blanket of golden yellow blossoms.

Leaves are compound, as well as opposite and 2 to 3 inches long. They are strongly aromatic, so if you dislike the smell of marigolds consider planting T. lemmonii in an out-of-the-way spot where passersby won't brush against it.

This plant grows happily in the far reaches of my backyard. Although not as drought-tolerant as many natives, I consider it easy enough on water to deserve serious consideration by Xeriscape fans. Make note of the fact that over-watering can lead to leggy plants with fewer blooms. At higher altitudes it likes full sun, but here in the desert I find that it prefers some afternoon shade. Just be careful not to give it too much shade, since this may cause the plant to get leggy and lose its compact rounded shape.

Maintenance is relatively simple: cut foliage back by approximately half during the early summer months to allow the plant to develop sturdy growth to support flowers. If you prefer a more natural look, older untrimmed specimens have an attractive sprawling habit with branches drooping horizontally.

Tolerant of heat, drought, and lean soil, marigolds reward the most casual of gardeners--perhaps this is the reason for their continuing popularity. They make effective foundation plants, and provide color when planted in large containers. Seeds can be planted outdoors when the soil has warmed, or started indoors and transplanted in spring. Space the seedlings 6 to 12 inches apart. Besides being quite striking, massed plantings attract many butterflies.

The genus Tagetes derives its name from the Etruscan deity Tages, a grandson of Jupiter whose specialty was soothsaying.

Because T. lemmonii is found in abundance near Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, I assumed it had been named for that area. As it turns out, it was named after John Gill Lemmon and his wife Sara, who discovered it growing in southeastern Arizona in the late 1800s. This couple is said to have discovered and named approximately 3% of all the native plants found in the state. Descendents of the plant samples that they later took with them to Oakland, California eventually made their way into that state's nursery trade. Oddly enough, they even made it all the way to England.

While researching, I found several references to these marigolds being resistant to both deer and rabbits. I cannot verify this information by my own observations, but you can give it a try. I do know that marigolds provide nectar for bees, insects and butterflies. Since they are also a visual delight for the two-legged gardener...what's not to like?



Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092