Going For Golds

One of the most eye-catching spring flowers in Altona Forest is the marsh marigold. It is a cheery late April-May bloomer with bright yellow flowers and deep green, rounded heart-shaped leaves. Have you seen one? Do you know where to look?

I was looking for herons in the south ponds in May when I saw what looked like a whole field of buttercups at the marshy end of the pond. I could see a few plants closer to where I was standing and scrambled to get a better look.


proliferating along a sunny stream

It didn’t take much research to identify the beautiful plant as a marsh marigold; a native bloomer sometimes called cowslip, king cup, or Caltha palustris if you want to use the scientific nomenclature. The plant is unlike garden ‘marigolds’ we are familiar with: it’s a succulent member of the buttercup family that grows only in wetlands.  It is closer to a waterlily and can dry up and become dormant in the hot, parched summer months. The closed ball-shaped flower bud is very much like ranunculus – they are from the same family.

Since this plant is also native to Europe, there are longstanding traditions of using it in food and gardening. There are many more names for this plant in Europe and England, one being the ‘mayflower’- an interesting historical reference to spring celebrations and the ship that carried the puritans to America.

Although the leaves of the marsh marigold are poisonous and the sap is caustic, they are edible when prepared correctly. (What crazy person figured that out?) Other human uses are in herbal remedies. Marsh marigold has medicinal properties used by the first nations in preparations for colds.


Bud structure and young flower

Marsh marigolds offer so much to our wetlands and manage to look as though they were planted by expert gardeners. Each plant grows into a neat clump about a 1.5 feet tall, seeds into the area to create a colourful field or a serpentine line that follows a brook or stream, and looks after itself with very little demands of the type of soil.

Marsh marigolds can be found in any province or territory in Canada. They are perennials hardy to growing Zone 3 – a lot colder than Altona Forest gets. They grow on the edges of water or in marsh or swamp areas, but will tolerate some drought once established. They grow in sun, part-shade, or shady locations and will adapt in soils that range from damp to about 6 inches of water. They are also excellent plants for cleaning the water they inhabit – improving the wetlands as they beautify them. And if you needed yet another reason to love them – they draw butterflies and hummingbirds as well.

If you have a pond, wet area of your garden, or are building a rain garden, consider sourcing native marsh marigolds from a reputable nursery. Whether it’s in your pond-scape or in the wild, marsh marigolds clean water by their intake of nutrients. They are also amazing native replacements for the invasive yellow iris creeping into our wetlands – like the Rouge Park ponds.

Now that you are likely charmed by this sunny native and know that they are found in the moist woodlands and pond edges of Altona Forest, watch for them as you wander the spring-time trails. They are not in many areas, but they are unmistakable when you see them.


Marsh marigold near the south pond- flower detail

Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

About Marsh Marigolds (Wiki)

Marsh Marigold Identification, History and Habitat

Historical and Old World References

Marsh Marigold (Aquatic Plant Profile)

How to Grow Marsh Marigolds

Going for Golds ~ © 2017 Natasha G




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