The Suitcase Lady


August 9, 2016, 11:32 pm

Tagetes patula is brightening up our porch. That is the scientific name for marigolds which are named for Tages, an Etruscan deity who is said to have sprung from the earth as it was being plowed. Our English word marigold comes from Mary’s gold, probably a reference to the Virgin Mary. Peasants would leave flower heads at her statue instead of coins.

Marigolds are natives of the New World from Argentina north to New Mexico. Cempoalxochitl is the Aztec word for this “herb of the sun”. The first recorded use of marigolds is found in an Aztec herbal from 1552. The book describes marigolds as a treatment for hiccups, being struck by lightning or “for one who wishes to cross a river or water safely.”

Today, Mexicans make lavish use of marigolds on Dia de los Muertos, their Day of the Dead festival on November 1. Millions of the orange and yellow flowers are used to adorn home altars, gravesites and entire cemeteries.

Portugese explorers introduced marigolds to India in the early 16th century. Now they are widely grown there and an integral part of wedding ceremonies and other holidays. For the Hindu Festival of Dussehra, homes, buildings and even vehicles are ablaze with marigold decorations.

Marigolds are also brought as offerings to Hindu gods. A lovely, antique wood carving of the Hindu god, Ganesh sits on a shelf of my bookcase. One day, my niece, who is from India, was visiting and noticed a tiny piece of dried marigold tucked behind Lord Ganesh’s hand.

Wherever they go, marigolds make themselves at home. They are not prima donnas like the geraniums that I tried to nurse through so many summers. Marigolds only ask for sun and a few drinks. In return, they will pump out continuous flowers until pumpkin time.

The other morning, we were just about to start breakfast on the porch when my husband said, “It smells like we must have had a skunk visitor around the yard last night.”

I thought about that for a second and then opened my hand and said, “I think this is your skunk.” I had just deadheaded the marigolds and had a fragrant fistful.


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