How to identify calendula

How To Identify Calendula

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Calendula is commonly mistaken for being a marigold, so how do you identify calendula and how do you tell it apart from a common marigold?

How to identify calendula
How to identify calendula

How to Identify Calendula Plant

Your standard run-of-the-mill calendula flower looks more like a daisy than a marigold and you can tell the two apart where it gets trickier is with full double-headed varieties like the “Neon” below. As a quick side note, this is the type I’m growing on the allotment this year!

Calendula Neon
Calendula Neon

As you can see from looking at the image this is a really similar flower to a marigold and from a glance, it would be tricky to tell the two apart if you weren’t a seasoned grower, this is why we move on to our next point, the leaves.

Leaves of Calendula

By far the easiest way to tell them apart is by the leaves. Calendula has much softer rounder leaves while french marigold leaves are often spiked.

different leaves
different leaves

Another differentiating factor in the leaves is that calendula leaves are sticky, this is partly what makes them so good as a topical remedy. French marigold leaves are not sticky.

Another easy way to usually tell them apart is the size. Calendulas are much larger than most french marigolds, they can grow to around 45cm tall whereas french marigolds are more commonly 10-15cm tall.

Size Of The Plant

Another way to possibly tell them apart is the sheer size of the plants. Calendula can grow tall and bushy whereas most marigolds stay a lot more compact.

Learn more about the height of calendula in my How Tall Do Calendula Get article.

The Seeds

One other key area in which Calendula differed from marigolds is in their seeds, they couldn’t be much more different actually.

Calendula has a curved horseshoe-shaped seed while marigolds have long needle seeds with a fluffy tip.

Calendula Seeds
Calendula Seeds
Marigold Seeds
Marigold Seeds

Calendula Officinalis (pot marigold)

Calendula is an annual herb that is edible and is commonly used in herbal remedies for all kinds of afflictions.

While being an annual it does have a strong self-seeding habit so grows almost as if it was a perennial. Plant some in a garden bed and expect them to readily self-seed and come back year after year.

They are really easy to grow and not too fussy at all. Provide them with a nice sunny spot in good, well-draining soil and they will reward you with ample bright orange blooms.

How to Grow Calendula

Calendula can be easily started from seed. Like all annual flowers (technically Calendula are a herb but they are normally grown as flowers), you want to start them early if possible to get the best summer displays.

Sow a few seeds per pot in early spring in a sheltered spot. A greenhouse or sunny windowsill is ideal.

Calendula Seedlings
Calendula Seedlings

They are good germinators and not overly fussy, just plant them under a thin layer of compost. You can use seed compost or just general purpose compost to sow Calendula.

As with most small seeds I find it better to water the soil to get it nice and moist before planting the seeds so you do not risk moving them with a deluge of water.

Once the seedlings have developed a good set of leaves I will tip them out from the pot and start separating them. The aim is to break the soil apart softly and keep as much of the root of each seedling as intact as possible.

You can then pot them on into individual pots or a couple of seedlings per pot if you are running short!

Transplanting Calendula Seedlings
Transplanting Calendula Seedlings

I will then grow them on in pots until all risk of frost has passed. At this time they can be planted out in the garden.

If you have grown your Calendula in a heated area, such as a heated greenhouse or inside your home then you will need to gradually acclimatise them to outside life before planting out.

Benifits of Calendula

Calendula is edible and was commonly known as poor man’s saffron. This is because they can be used to colour food dishes in much the same way as saffron is, although they do not taste like saffron. The flower petals can be added to salads for a splash of colour.

Beyond being edible calendula flowers have been used for many hundreds of years as a herbal remedy.

It has antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties and is used in all sorts of things from topical creams to lip balms.

What is Calendula’s common name?

Calendula are known as pot marigolds. Despite this, they are not marigolds but the name stems from them looking very similar to marigolds and either commonly being used in pot cooked food dishes or the fact that they grow well in pots, depending on who you ask.

How to tell Calendulas and French Marigolds apart

There are a few easy ways to differentiate between the two plants.

French Marigold

The more common marigold is grown as an attractive flower and is not usually considered edible, although some varieties are. This is a whole other topic which is hotly debated and I’m not going to get into it here, for the sake of simplicity I will say they are not edible.

They are grown for their flowers and also as a pest preventive. Marigolds are commonly used in companion planting as they are believed to deter certain pests.

To Summarise

Calendula and Marigolds are from the same family of plants (Asteraceae) but are from different genera. French marigolds are from the Tagetes genus whilst pot marigolds are from the Calendula genus.

They have both been simply referred to as marigolds in the past but now pot marigold is the common name for calendula. To avoid any confusion though I think it is simply best to refer to them as calendula.

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