By | February 4, 2017
Marigold (Tagetes erecta) 'Primrose Lady'

What’s Old is New: 1977 AAS Winner Marigold (Tagetes erecta) ‘Primrose Lady’ at Ball Horticultural Trials, Summer 2013

Having grown the orange myself, I can attest that at least to my nose, it is not particularly odorless.  Or if it once was, it is no longer – perhaps through genetic drift (which you’ll read more about in an upcoming chapter).  Most importantly for me, the prospect of another border full of these irregular five-foot tall giants is unlikely in any future garden of mine, despite the fact that catalogs and seed packets generally list them at 3 feet.  A few have even grown over my head (I am 5’ 6”) then sagged and toppled after a heavy rain, taking their wood and bamboo stakes down with them.  At my latitude (41.89° north), after a summer’s worth of 15-hour days, even the modern dwarf or compact versions of these “American” type marigolds – such as the recent (2010) All-America Selections winner Moonsong Deep Orange  (ancestors of all T. erecta are native to a land of roughly 12-hour-daylight summers) – may find themselves stretching somewhat taller than described in catalogs.

Furthermore, in Orange Hawaii some flowers are single and daisy-like, some fully double like a carnation and a fair percentage more land somewhere in between.  Even if it grew to only half its actual height in my garden, Orange Hawaii simply does not fit the “business model” of how a modern, large flowered bedding marigold should look and behave.  And that’s not merely the professional Horticulturist in me talking – they are simply a pain in the butt to grow – indenturing the (already busy enough) gardener to a summer of staking, tying, grooming and pruning!  So breeders long ago shifted course from perceived “odorless-ness” to garden manageability, plant quality, day length sensitivity and of course – flower quality.

Unlike most of the modern, large flowered yet shorter statured bedding marigolds, Orange Hawaii is open-pollinated – meaning the seed is grown without most breeder intervention allowing bees to do the job accomplished by hand labor on the more refined varieties.  Thus, seed is less expensive both to produce and purchase in bulk than that produced by hand crossing.  Though this implies sacrifice of flower and plant quality (in other words, refined, predictable doubleness or controlled height) those massive plants from cheaper seed still produce copious flowers, and though irregular in petal count typically bear plenty of petals (ray florets) high in xanthophyll, part of a family of yellow pigments found in many plants and which deepen the color of egg yolks.

Thus Orange Hawaii – more than a half century after its original introduction as an odorless panacea – for those apparently few people who truly found marigold scent objectionable enough to seek a change (sometimes, driving breeding goals toward an imaginary market has its pitfalls) – has instead become repurposed as a modern additive to chicken feed.  Until recently it was grown in large quantity for the commercial feed market by Bodger Seeds, Ltd. of Lompoc, California, but recently Bodger’s interests have been acquired by the venerable Ernst Benary Samenzucht GmbH of Germany.  As Benary is most famous for its proprietary lines of annual and perennial flower seed, bred for the uniformity and performance our so-called odorless subject lacks, I’m not sure yet what this means for the future of oversized, irregular, open pollinated, somewhat unpredictable relics like Orange Hawaii.

(Please visit again soon – there is more REMINISCENCE just around the corner!)

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