Marigolds (Tagetes): Flavorous, Floriferous, and Fragrant to Skipper, Sulphur, and White Butterflies

by DerdriuMarriner

Marigolds (genus Tagetes) are New World natives with Old World charm.

Marigolds are New World originals which have gained worldwide appreciation.

Three species (French marigold, Mexican mint, signet marigold) are especially irresistible to butterflies.

Four butterflies (cabbage white, common checkered skipper, dainty sulphur, orange sulphur) display passionate devotion to marigolds.

alluring, familiar beauty of French marigolds (Tagetes patula)

Tagetes patula, Urbana, east central Illinois
Tagetes patula, Urbana, east central Illinois


Tagetes genus, which comprises over fifty species in the aster-daisy-sunflower family Asteraceae, is commonly known as marigolds.

In 1753, the father of modern taxonomy, Swedish botanist-physician-zoologist Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778), named the genus in honor of Tages, an Etruscan (ca. 8th to first centuries B.C.) deity of prophecy who was later incorporated into Roman mythology as the son or grandson of Jupiter (Latin: Iuppiter, "O Father Sky-God"), the patron deity of Rome who reigned as king in the Roman pantheon. Tages was believed to have sprung to full life from the plowed earth. Reminiscently, marigolds seem to burst through the earth from their seeds.

A New World original, marigolds trace their nativity to the American tropics and subtropics. Marigolds are now a worldwide phenomenon, having been introduced and naturalized successfully on other continents since their discovery subsequent to the settlement of the New World.

Three marigold species which are irresistible to butterflies are

  • Mexican mint (Tagetes lucida),
  • French marigold (Tagetes patula),
  • Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia).


Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida)

Liberec Botanical Garden, north central Czech Republic
Liberec Botanical Garden, north central Czech Republic

Externals: What Tagetes lucida looks like ~ golden flowers with gourmet leaves


Tagetes lucida is commonly known as Mexican mint, Spanish tarragon, and sweet mace.

A perennial from Mexico and Guatemala, Tagetes lucida spreads from 16 to 32 inches (40 to 80 centimeters) and displays a fairly similar range in height, from 16 to 40 inches (40 to 100 centimeters).

A woody-based plant, Tagetes lucida branches for a slight way up the stem.

Aromatic leaves, which are lance-shaped, are toothed.

Tagetes lucida explodes in golden brightness in late summer as small flowerheads open in abundant profusion.

Tagetes lucida leaves, which flavorfully combine the taste of tarragon and anise, easily serve as an undetectable substitute for tarragon in cuisine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which classes plants according to the coldest temperature at which they remain viable, categorizes Tagetes lucida in Zone 9 (20° to 30° Fahrenheit; -7° to -1° Celsius) through Zone 11 (40° to 50° F.; 4° to 10° C.).


French marigold: Common name in French, l'oeillet d'Inde ("Indian carnation"), recalls first imports of this spectacular flower to France via Antilles Islands in Caribbean, known then as Indes occidentales ("West Indies").

French marigold (Tagetes patula)
French marigold (Tagetes patula)

Externals: What Tagetes patula looks like ~ premiere pièce de résistance for butterflies


Tagetes patula is commonly known as French marigold.

An annual with a compact exuberance, Tagetes patula hails from Mexico and Guatemala.

Tagetes patula spreads from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters). Its height hovers from 8 to 20 inches (20 to 50 centimeters).

Pinnate (Latin: pinna, "feather, fin") leaves, which are divided into narrow, lance-shaped segments, are toothed.

Flowers open singly or in small clusters in early summer and last into autumn. In the wild, floral coloring tends towards yellow to orange. Popular garden varieties strikingly blend red with yellow in striped petals.

Tagetes patula is a visual and fragrant delight, from its vivid, fragrant flowers, whose oil is distilled for perfume, to its aromatic leaves, whose oil glands exude a pungent scent. Butterflies enthusiastically visit this beloved shrub, delighting in its flavorsome nectar, while also appreciating its gorgeous sunny blazes of gold, dark orange, and brick red hues.

Tagetes patula is classed in hardiness Zone 11 (40° to 50° Fahrenheit; 4° to 10° Celsius) to Zone 12 (50° to 60° F.; 10° to 16° C.).


A profusion of signet marigolds promises sweet citrusy aromas.

signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia)
signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia)

Externals: What Tagetes tenuifolia looks like ~ a waft of citrus


Tagetes tenuifolia is commonly known as signet marigold and striped marigold.

A finely branched annual, Tagetes tenuifolia ranges natively from Mexico south into Colombia (República de Colombia).

Tagetes tenuifolia spreads from 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters). Its height ranges from 12 to 32 inches (30 to 80 centimeters).

Multi-toothed, pinnate leaves are divided into narrow, lance-shaped segments.

From early summer into autumn, tiny yet abundant flowerheads dramatically contrast with short yet obvious ray florets, which are the small, strap-shaped flowers in the center of the flowerhead. Bright shades of yellow, orange, and red vivify the full, aromatic foliage which wafts luscious, citrusy scents.

Tagetes tenuifolia is hardy for Zone 11 (40° to 50° Fahrenheit; 4° to 10° Celsius) to Zone 12 (50° to 60° F.; 10° to 16° C.).


A carpet of 'Red Gem" signet marigold flowers beckons and beguiles butterflies.

'Red Gem': developed for the garden ~ Jardin botanique de Montréal
'Red Gem': developed for the garden ~ Jardin botanique de Montréal

Marigolds: flavorfully irresistible to butterflies


Butterflies flock to marigolds. Four which treasure marigolds' golden nectar are

  • orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme),
  • cabbage white (Pieris rapae),
  • common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis),
  • dwarf yellow or dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole).


Orange sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme): wing undersides

Orange Sulphur (Alfalfa Butterfly)
Orange Sulphur (Alfalfa Butterfly)


Colias eurytheme is commonly known as orange sulphur butterfly.

This New World native is seen throughout the continental United States except for peninsular Florida. Colias eurytheme also feels at home as far south as central Mexico and as far north as southern Canada.

Colias eurytheme yearns for the openness of alfalfa and clover fields, meadows, and roadsides.

Bordered in black, male uppersides sport a dark black cell spot amidst rich orange to golden yellow. Yellow to white uppersides are punctuated in females by spots rimmed with irregular black borders.

Wingspan measures 1-3/8 to 2-3/4 inches (3.5 to 7 centimeters).

In addition to marigolds, Colias eurytheme extracts nectar from asters (genus Aster), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and mints (genus Mentha).


cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae)

Ponte Carreira, Galicia, northwestern Spain
Ponte Carreira, Galicia, northwestern Spain


Pieris rapae is commonly known as cabbage white butterfly.

A Eurasian native, Pieris rapae was first reported in North America in 1860 at Quebec City, Canada. By 1886 Pieris rapae was observed in the United States from the western states of the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf Coast states in the southeast.

Pieris rapae now ranges from central Canada to northwestern Mexico. Abounding throughout the continental United States, Pieris rapae is not, however, found in south Texas, southern Louisiana, or the Florida Keys.



Uppersides are white with black-tipped forewings. Females have two submarginal black spots, while males have only one. The undersides of hindwings and of the apex (Latin:  apex, “tip, peak, top”), or tip, of each forewing are yellow green or grey green.

Wingspan averages 1-3/4 to 2-1/4 inches (4.5 to 5.8 centimeters).

In addition to marigolds, Pieris rapae extracts nectar from dahlias (genus Dahlia), lavenders (genus Lavandula), mustards (genus Brassica), and zinnias (genus Zinnia).


Common checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis)

Cold Brook Reserve, Hunterdon County, western New Jersey
Cold Brook Reserve, Hunterdon County, western New Jersey


Pyrgus communis is commonly known as common checkered skipper.

A North American native, Pyrgus communis is found throughout the continental United States, southern Canada, and northern Mexico.

Pyrgus communis enjoys sunny, open habitats with low vegetation. Fields, gardens, meadows, and prairies are preferred habitats. Roadsides, along with openings and trails in woods, are also appealing.

The inconspicuous coloring of Pyrgus communis presents blue grey uppersides with white sprinkles.

Its petite wingspan measures 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters).

In addition to marigolds, Pyrgus communis delights in blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), coneflowers (genus Echinacea), and ironweeds (genus Vernonia).

Resting mode showcases Dainty Sulphur's undersides as well as uppersides.

Dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole)
Dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole)


Nathalis iole is commonly known as dwarf yellow, or dainty sulpur, butterfly.

In the United States, Nathalis iole resides in the deep south, from southern California east to the Gulf states and to peninsular Florida. Nathalis iole’s native range stretches southwards across Mexico to Guatemala.

Open, dry habitats appeal to Natalis iole. Coastal flats, weedy fields, grasslands, meadows, and roadsides are ideal locales.

Elongated forewings have yellow uppersides with dainty black markings. Completely whitened uppersides occur, albeit rarely. The undersides of the forewings have a patch of orange or yellow at the base and black spots at the outer wing edges. Hindwings are dusty green in winter and pale yellow in summer.

Wingspan averages 3/4 to 1-1/4 inches (2 to 3.2 centimeters).

In addition to marigolds, Nathalis iole favors asters (genus Aster), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), lavenders (genus Lavandula), and zinnias (genus Zinnia).


red-and-yellow Tagetes patula

Halland province, southwestern Sweden
Halland province, southwestern Sweden

Marigolds: bountiful nectar, vividly presented


The common name, marigolds, is thought to honor the Virgin Mary, as the original vernacular name, Mary's gold, has been truncated. Marigolds bountifully and brightly enhance the landscape, bursting forth in a predictable brilliance of sunny hues which gladden hearts. The bright, unassumingly steadfast prevalence of marigolds, particularly with the close of summer and subsequent autumnal signs of decline and decay, instills a cheery understanding of nature's bountiful cycles.


Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold. . . .

Nothing gold can stay.” (Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”)

And yet marigolds persist, oftentimes surviving a light frost. Reliance on the fidelity, perseverance, and profuse presence of this modestly regal genus does not yield disappointment, not for Homo sapiens and certainly not for butterflies.

Not only are marigolds visually stunning, in their unaffected, natural flowering and foliage, but they also provide other sensual enrichment through fragrance and taste. Edible leaves for Homo sapiens and savory nectar for butterflies complete their profile as pleasant sensations in the floral community.


signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)




My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Mexican mint marigolds (Tagetes lucida) with spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata):

stronger scented marigolds such as T. lucida are planted to draw these beetled pests away cucumbers, melons, and squashes.
"It's the season for cucumber beetles."
"It's the season for cucumber beetles."

Sources Consulted


Barton, Barb. “Colias eurytheme (On-line).” Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

  • Available at:

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volume I: A-K. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2003.

"Orange Sulphur Colias eurytheme Boisduval, 1852."  Butterflies and Moths of North America: Collecting and Sharing Information about Lepidoptera. Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus, Butterfly and Moth Information Network.

  • Available at:

Ortho's All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies. Des Moines IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

Roth, Sally. Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard. Rodale Organic Gardening Book. Emmaus PA: Rodale, 2001.


French marigolds (Tagetes patula) convey luscious velvet textures via their rich coloring.

the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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marigold colored 100% cotton comfy elegant cardigan

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 11/06/2013

WriterArtist, Marigold's yellows are very cheery, indeed, and really stand out in a nice sunshiny way in the landscape.
Thank you for visiting and commenting. Your appreciation of the photos which I selected is much appreciated. Thank you!

WriterArtist on 11/05/2013

You have an amazing collection of photos of marigold. The yellow flowers are so bright and vibrant that the entire garden gets an uplift with the golden hue.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/03/2013

Mira, Isn't it amazing the variety which is found in marigolds!
The New World origins of this cheery, steadfast flower are often forgotten in the vastness of their worldwide acceptance.
Those floating gardens of marigolds are quite unforgettable. I also love French marigolds, and so their journey to France via the Antilles contributes to their enchanting history.
A special attraction of marigolds for me is the perfection of their fragrance.
Thank you for visiting, commenting, and appreciating my tribute to this wonderful flower.

Mira on 11/03/2013

"French marigold: Common name in French, l'oeillet d'Inde ("Indian carnation"), recalls first imports of this spectacular flower to France via Antilles Islands in Caribbean, known then as Indes occidentales ("West Indies")." Loved this bit. I also love French marigolds. Always called them simply marigolds. Had no idea they were all so different. I really like the "red gems," too. Wonderful article, Derdriu! I didn't know marigolds were New World flowers but when I read about it here I was reminded of some floating gardens near Mexico City (saw them on a DVD) where they had lots of French marigolds.

DerdriuMarriner on 11/01/2013

jptanabe, Marigolds are hearty growers. I've never seen a straggling marigold patch. Their flowers always look joyous and exuberant and are always teeming with the vibrant colors of bees and butterflies.
Your garden is definitely blessed to have them!
Thank you for visiting and commenting.

jptanabe on 10/30/2013

Marigolds seem to grow very well in my yard - I don't know what kind they are but the bees and the butterflies love them, me too!

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