Marsh Marigold: An Overlooked Early Spring Flower

Marsh MarigoldIt seems to me that as soon as a flower proves that it has no problem surviving in a particular climate, someone slaps the label “wildflower”. To we snobbish gardeners, being a wildflower is like being the trailer park beauty queen. All the boys want her number but nobody is taking her to the party. Such is the case with the marsh marigold.

The marsh marigold, or cowslip as it’s known to its close friends, is a wildflower. Technically, as the name would imply, marsh marigolds grow in marshy areas. Most descriptions of it would imply that they will only grow in consistently wet and shady areas, but from personal experience, I can honesty state these things will grow anywhere except severe drought.

It grows beautifully all over my yard and my neighbor’s yard (which is where I snitched them from to begin with). It grows best where the ground is consistently wet and the light is shady, but there are many areas where it only gets marsh like conditions for a few weeks per year. The rest of the year, the conditions are dry with normal rainfall providing the water. As a matter of fact, my neighbor has theirs up on a mound that could not possibly stay wet all year.

Marsh marigolds bloom in early spring and are done blooming by late spring. After that, their dark green, ruffled heart shaped leaves make a great ground cover for the remainder of the year. From what I can tell, they are evergreen. So even in the winter months, they add a nice green color to an otherwise drab winter.

The flowers are yellow and are family to buttercups. It has knock-off petals that look like the petals you would pay big bucks for but in fact they are really petaloid sepals.

Best of all, when the rest of the garden is still trying to decide if it is safe to come out yet, marsh marigolds are dotting the world with little yellow spots of sunshine.

The real problem is that they are easy. Easy flowers just don’t get the respect that they should. The gardeners all talk about how great those wildflowers are but your big box nursery just would not approve of that kind of “wildflower” relationship.

6 thoughts on “Marsh Marigold: An Overlooked Early Spring Flower
  1. You could have found better photos to link too :)

    I do state that the wild Marsh Marigold I display won’t tolerate dry conditions. That’s been my experience with the wild Caltha palustris I’ve grown. I also note that the wild variety don’t last – even in the wild the plants go dormant in soil that remains very moist. Garden varieties I have no experience with – they may be much better suited to a garden through selective breeding.

    Best to warn people off from attempting to plant these wild ones where the soil does get dry, especially for long periods of time. The thing about shade is it helps retain soil moisture. Often when the ground is not baked in the sun the soil retains enough moisture. Dry (to me) means no moisture in the soil – Often people will consider soil as dry when it is in fact not. Moist doesn’t mean your hand will get damp/wet when feeling the soil, plants can pick up water long after that point.

    Maybe a better ‘guide’ would be to call them “native”. That way people wouldn’t assume you need special conditions. Bee balm, coneflowers, sneezeweed, asters and even clematis are native wildflowers. I agree labeling these as ‘wildflowers’ could scare off many new gardeners (except for the fact they’re so well known). Using “native” doesn’t imply any special care is needed.

    On the other hand we have alien wildflowers. They’re really not wild. They generally are plants from other areas brought over to the ‘new world’ since they had uses we no longer think of. They escaped and naturalized in the wild because they found life easy outside garden borders. So in some ways a ‘wildflower’ can be thought of as easy to grow. Just think of the Mullien (Verbascum thapsus) so common along roadsides. Or Gill Over the Ground (Glechoma hedercea) that makes up the major part of most lawns in my area.

    Someone who does catch garden fever will not be intimidated by any label. We just have to try everything and anything that catches our fancy. Native or alien everything we grow was actually wild at one time. We just do our best to domesticate them to our gardens. Labels be damned, I’ll try anyway because I can’t help myself. More often than not we find it wasn’t so hard after all.

    You are so right – Marsh Marigolds are a early spring treat often overlooked. It’s not a trailer park beauty in my mind. I prefer to think they’re more like Cinderella. Now where are all the Prince Charmings?

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  2. The Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) is a lovely early-spring wildflower which is all too uncommon in my area of southeastern Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the plant pictured in the above article (and possibly the one described as well) is in fact Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), which is widely known as an exotic invasive seriously threatening the biodiversity of low-lying areas. In the photo can clearly be seen leaves with a smooth margin… Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) has a serated leaf margin. Also, Marsh Marigold has fewer petals than the plant pictured, and does not grow all over the yard, as does Lesser Celandine.

    In my work with native biodiversity, I have become greatly concerned with the confusion between these two plants as they look extremely similar to all but the closest inspection, and may have even been confused in the nursery trade at one point. For its part, Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is a lovely plant in its own right, offering a cheerful relief from winter when it blankets the ground with bright yellow flowers in early spring. But, to mistake it for Marsh Marigold (a native plant) is a big problem that I am trying to correct every chance I get!

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    john Reply:

    andy is correct The plant shown in the photo is a lawn weed known as Ranunculus ficaria or lesser celandine. you can try this site for more info http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/rafi1.htm

    I use to run an aquatic nursery so i am very familiar with marsh marigold

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  3. Hanna on

    Thank you for the information. It is greatly appreciated!

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  4. I had MM’s blooming on Oct 23,2010 near Kewaunee Wi…I assume they are seeds this springs plants that sprouted because of the warm fall.

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  5. Sylvia on

    Where do you find these to purchase? I live in the S.F. Bay Area.

    Thanks.

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