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Marigold Vs Calendula

It is important to understand some of the differences between calendula and marigold in order to decide on plant planning and where to grow in case of confusion over edibles.

Both Marigolds and Calendulas are members of the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family but that is where the similarities stop. Marigolds belong to the genus Tagetes and Calendula belongs to the genus Calendula. Differences in size, shape, aroma and seed shape aside there are fundamental differences in toxicity levels.

Calendula is edible, whereas marigolds vary. Caution must be taken. So Let’s look at each of these differences and similarities in more detail!

What Are The Differences Between Marigold and Calendula?

CalendulaMarigold
GenusCalendula Tagetes
Native
Country
Northern Africa and South Central EuropeSouth America and Tropical America
Size30-60cm high in bushy clumpsSome species are 15cm whilst others are over 1m high.
ShapeFlowers are more like daisies in shape and appearance.Petals are more chunky with a thicker base to them.
SeedsCurved with ridges, protected with a larger curved chaffdark in color, long, thin and straight with white tufty seed head towards one end.
ToxicityCalendula are edible and the petals are tasty, leaves are a bit too bitteroften inedible and certainly toxic. Containing phototoxic thiophene derivatives.
AromaGentle and pleasantFlowers and sap are unpleasant to smell and act as a deterrent.
Usedried calendula petals are used as a substitute for saffron.companion planting to deter pests.
  1. Whilst the standard size for calendula is smaller than marigolds the species will vary immensely. If you went for a French Marigold it would grow to around 30cm in height with a 30cm spread. Therefore you must choose your seeds and young plants to match your space available.
  2. Toxicity is so important when planning your garden. Even the ASPCA lists marigolds as non-toxic to dogs, but it is looking at the genus name Calendula Officinalis, which has the nickname of pot marigold. The concern isn’t so much about the effect on humans as we would suffer very mild symptoms, but more to animals who may ingest larger quantities. There are possible side effects of an upset stomach, again only in a mild form. We have found that the aroma will deter animals. Marigold flowers are not all toxic though and some can be used as edible flowers to humans.
  3. Are Marigolds perennials or annuals? Well really it seems to matter very little as we have mild frosts and our marigolds that are designated annuals act as tender perennials and can be maintained throughout the winter. Our calendula however are perennials and will thrive all year round. Their genus name derives from their desire to flower every day that they can. As both marigold and calendula will self-seed this is also a moot point. Once you have bought them and cultivated them, leave them to self seed and they will take over your garden.
  1. Calendula often have a delicate, subtle flowery aroma. Whereas marigold are harsh and quite unpleasant. Possibly this will dictate where you choose to plant them. Even though there are only around 15 true species of calendula I think there is enough variety there to replace the marigolds that have the strongest aroma.
  2. Uses for calendula vary greatly from a substitute for more expensive saffron, to salad garnish to medicinal oils. Marigolds do have the ability to be used as companion plants. It is that strong aroma and sticky stem that puts garden pests off. Plant alongside potatoes, basil, tomatoes but not cabbage.
  3. The seeds of calendula are curved little horns with ridges along them. They will be easy to hand sort from the dead flower head and then store and sow for the next year. Marigold seeds are long, thin, smooth little quills with white fluffy seed heads towards the top. They are built to fly away in he winds and self seed. They will do this very well and grow virtually anywhere with soil and sunshine.

Are The Differences Between Marigold and Calendula Important

Well not really. It is down to how you want to use your garden. Companion planting with marigold is great and will help you to have a more productive organic garden. Calendula is great as an edible, but if you pick a variety of marigold that is edible then that will not be an issue either.

SO many people get the two confused, but the different genus is the key to separating them. Once you understand those differences you can work out the reasons to grow each one, your gardens climate and the hours of sunshine you will have available. Both enjoy a well draining soil to grow in and cope just fine during periods of drought.

What Next

Decide on the basis of each individual species and make your choice regarding who else is going to be using your garden. Will any pets inadvertently eat a toxic marigold? Well either don’t grow that species, or go for a similar looking calendula.

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