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What Is a Desert Marigold?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 16, 2024
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The desert marigold is a bright yellow flower that blooms from about mid-March to mid-November each year. Its main habitat ranges across the dry regions of the southwest United States. Rarely found in the mountains, the desert marigold grows mostly in the sandy desert, giving the flower its name. This flower generally grows in clumps and features long, weedy stems and very showy yellow blossoms.

The Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts make up the majority of the desert marigold’s habitat, along with the southern edges of Arizona and Utah. It grows widely all over New Mexico, western Texas, and even creeps into northern Mexico. These flowers love full sun and dry, rocky soils. Those looking for desert marigold can usually find it in dry, rocky slopes and mesas where few other plants grow. They often share territory with cacti and desert evergreens.

Many desert marigold blossoms grow to about 2 inches (about 4 cm) in width with broad, sunlight-yellow petals. Their centers, where the seeds grow, are fuzzy and the petals are often double-layered, giving the flowers a very full look. Their stems are blue-gray-green, fibrous, and basically leafless near the top. Leaves only grow near the bottom of a cluster of flowers, stretching their fuzzy, lobed tips toward the sun.

The small hairs on the leaves and stems of these plants, as well as the location of the leaves, lend themselves well to conserving energy and water. Desert marigolds love full sun, so capturing light for photosynthesis may be done by very few leaves. The roots are usually deep, pulling water in from far underground. The tough leaves and stems prevent insects and animals from stealing the plant’s moisture.

In late November, desert marigolds typically begin to dry out, with the petals curling toward the center of each blossom. This leaves a small, dry, brittle cone on the top of each stem. These cones are filled with seeds that grow heavy as they dry and fall out of the flower. The seeds are long, narrow, and light, which makes it easy for the wind to disperse them. They may also get caught in animal fur, which can carry them even further than a breeze.

Those raising sheep and goats in the desert should keep their livestock away from desert marigold. This plant is highly toxic to animals in the ovine family, though cattle horses can usually eat them without getting sick. Humans should not eat desert marigold, either. Consuming it may not be fatal to humans, but it is likely to make the consumer very sick.

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