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October Birth Flowers: Marigold and Cosmos | The Old Farmer's Almanac

October Birth Flowers

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Marigold and Cosmos

Tim Goodwin
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Marigolds and cosmos are both easy to grow and provide color in the garden until the first frost of the fall. Their rich history and long-held symbolism make marigolds and cosmos plants that are meaningful in so many ways. Learn more about these two popular flowers! 

What Are the October Birth Flowers?

Marigolds are known for their bright colors and strong odor and have long been associated with death and grief. They are a prominent fixture in Day of the Dead festivities, used to decorate gravesites and home altars. 

Cosmos is a symbol of order and balance, peace and innocence. They represent luck and have many medicinal purposes.

Marigolds

The Marigold

Native to the Americas, from the southwestern United States to well into South America, marigolds are popular because of their ease of growing, low-maintenance, and colorful blooms from early summer through the first frost. 

Marigolds, a member of the aster family, and more specifically the Tagetes genus, have three main types: French, African (or American), and Signet, which appear in orange, yellow, red, and bi-colors, as well as other color combinations. (Pot marigolds, native to southern Europe and a member of the Calendula genus, are not a true marigold.)

While the names suggest otherwise, African marigolds do not originate in Africa and got their name when the flowers were brought through northwest Africa along a trade route. French marigolds were named due to their popularity in French gardens.

Marigold Meanings and Symbolism

  • The common name, marigold, is a shortening of ”Mary’s gold.” It is said to have been named for the Virgin Mary.
  • Because of their strong smell, gardeners once thought marigolds were poisonous.
  • In India, giving a marigold lei was a sign of friendship.
  • Many cultures believed that the bright orange and yellow colors, representing the rays of the Sun, could help guide departed loved ones to the afterlife. Some believed the colors represented the beauty and warmth of the Sun and offered a power to resurrect.
  • In more recent times, the flowers have been linked to optimism and prosperity, cheer and joy, love and strong emotions, wealth and success. The flower has also been connected with death and grief.
  • In Buddhism, marigolds are used to worship Buddha, while in Hinduism, the flowers are associated with the Sun and used in marriage celebrations.
  • It was once thought that marigolds could provide protection while crossing a river and from being hit by lightning.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans used marigolds for medicinal purposes, to dye fabrics, and create cosmetics.
  • In medieval times, marigolds were thought to be a treatment for the plague.
  • Used to treat rashes, burns, and wounds, marigolds have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Marigold in History

The marigold is a prominent element in Day of the Dead rituals, which originated in Mexico. Marigolds have been cultivated in Mexico for more than 2,000 years and are used to make floral arches, garlands, wreaths, and crucifixes. The flowers decorate gravesites and home altars, known as ofrendas. Thought to attract the souls of the dead, the bright colors and smells of marigolds are used to create a path from a home’s front door to the ofrenda inside.

Marigolds in the Garden

Marigolds not only provide consistent color throughout the growing season, but their distinct smell can repel pests like deer and rabbits, making them a great companion plant. They attract butterflies and songbirds, as well as beneficial insects, such as lady bugs, hover flies, and parasitic wasps.

Marigolds prefer well-draining soil and can tolerate drought conditions—more so than overly wet soil. They grow and bloom best in full sun.

Often wider than they are tall, marigold plants can grow up to 2 feet tall, although some varieties, including African marigolds, will grow taller.

Read more about marigolds in our Marigold Growing Guide!

Cosmos flowers
Cosmos

The Cosmos

Cosmos bloom in a number of colors, from orange, red, and yellow to pink, purple, and white.

Native to Mexico, the annual flowers are daisy-like and sit atop long, thin stems that can grow up to 6 feet tall. The colorful petals radiate from a yellow center.

A member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), cosmos make a great addition to flower gardens and have naturalized along roadsides and in fields across many parts of the United States.

Cosmos Meanings and Symbolism

  • The genus name comes from the Greek word kosmos, meaning order and harmony of the universe.
  • The flowers have long symbolized order, harmony, and balance. Others believe it is a sign of peace, love, joy, and innocence.
  • A red cosmos represents love and passion; pink means a mother’s love; yellow symbolizes friendship; white is a sign of faithfulness and devotion.
  • It was once thought that cosmos could attract fairies to gardens.
  • There was an element of luck associated with growing cosmos, as they were thought to repel unwanted insects from destroying other plants.
  • The plants have many medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Over the years, they have been used to fight infections, treat skin issues, improve circulation, and more.

The Cosmos in History

The cosmos was originally brought to Spain from Mexico in the 16th century, then plants were introduced to England in the 18th century. By the mid-19th century, they were common in gardens in the United States, too.

Spanish priests in Mexico grew cosmos in their mission gardens. They gave it this name because of the orderly arrangement of the petals.

It is a popular gift, including for 2nd wedding anniversaries, where its inclusion in bouquets is common.

Cosmos in the Garden

An annual, cosmos is easy to grow and will often reseed itself. The plant can grow in hot, dry conditions and provides blooms from early summer to the first frost.

Cosmos do best with at least a half-day of direct sunlight. Some varieties will need staking as they grow tall during the summer months.

Overwatering can lead to fewer flowers, so keep a watchful eye on the amount of water you provide your plants.

Deadhead spent flowers to prolong the bloom. To encourage re-blooming, cut plants back once flowers are filled with dried seed. The original plant will bloom again in a month or so, and the seeds that fall to the ground will germinate in the hot soil and lead to more plants and a thicker cluster.

Read more about cosmos in our Cosmos Growing Guide!

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