Flower of the Day of the Dead – Cempasúchil

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:

Cempasúchil plants in full bloom (September 22, 2021)
Same cempasúchil plants (October 26, 2021)

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:

Cempasúchil flowers and trail of petals, part of my Day of the Dead offering (November 2021)

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.

16 thoughts on “Flower of the Day of the Dead – Cempasúchil

  1. Your marigolds held up well! Love the colorful moth. I was not familiar with it. Given the name, I would assume it associates with ailanthus trees (which are unlikely around here).


  2. I didn’t know that you can grow cempasúchil in cold climates in the U.S. or Canada, I have to try it! I’ve read that California is able to grow cempasúchil because of its warm climate. I would like to try it.


    1. It worked really well. Enter “cempasúchil” on the search option on the right, I have posts with details, from starting seed indoors in the spring, to transplanting when it gets warm, then, they grew and bloomed really well. We are getting frosty nights now, so they are gone, but as I mentioned, survided well enough in time for my offering. Hope you get to try!

      Liked by 1 person

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