Cempasúchil (Tagetes erecta) is an annual plant, originally native to Mexico, and the name comes from the Nahuatl forms cempoal and xochitl, literally “twenty flowers”, for their abundance in petals, and blooming pattern; they are known in English as Mexican marigold, Aztec marigold, or wrongly, African marigold. Used as the traditional flor de muertos (flower of the dead) in Mexico, cempasúchil is extensively found adorning tombs, and in offerings for All Saints Day, and Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2). Cempasúchil flowers have a characteristic scent that is said to attract the souls of the departed, and that trails of their petals serve as a guide for the spirits to reach the offerings set up by their living benefactors.
In my garden, cempasúchil was one of the new-to-me backyard crops this year. Back in September, the plants showed a precocious blooming peak (photo below, left), and I wondered if there would be any flowers left by early November. In the photo below, right, the same plants at the end of October:
Comparing the photos, it seems like there were just a few flowers left, but I was actually able to harvest more than enough for my offering this year:
In terms of gardening, growing cempasúchil has been a positive experience: seed was easy to sprout, plants grew to a very healthy size, with many flowers on each plant. Although the season is definitely shorter in Canada than in Mexico, with and early blooming peak, there would still be enough flowers for display and to coat the trail for the souls on Day of the Dead offerings. So … I would say it is a worthwhile backyard project, all things considered, am I right? (or “amirite?” as the kids say.)
I was surprised to spot this colourful ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) on one of the cempasúchil flowers:
These moths were originally native to Florida and tropical regions South of Costa Rica, later naturalized throughout the United States, but they are seen only occasionally in Canada, limited to Ontario and southern parts of Quebec. Their presence in my backyard in Ontario, so late in the year, could either be due to an adaptation of the species to colder areas, or a worrisome sign of climate change.
I am joining Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD) Challenge for November 1, 2021.