Marsh Marigold, American Cowslip – Flowers

(Caltha palustris) Crowfoot family

Flowers—Bright, shining yellow, 1 to 1 1/2 in. across, a few in terminal and axillary groups. No petals ; usually 5 (often more) oval, petal-like sepals ; stamens numerous ; many pistils (carpels) without styles. Stem : Stout, smooth, hollow, branching, 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves : Mostly from root, rounded, broad, and heart-shaped at base, or kidney-shaped, upper ones almost sessile, lower ones on fleshy petioles.

Preferred Habitat—Springy ground, low meadows, swamps, river banks, ditches.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Carolina to Iowa, the Rocky Mountains, and very far north.

Not a true marigold, and even less a cowslip, it is by these names that this flower, which looks most like a buttercup, will continue to be called, in spite of the protests of scientific classifiers. Doubtless the first of these folk-names refers to its use in church festivals during the Middle Ages as one of the blossoms devoted to the Virgin Mary.

“And winking Mary-buds begin To ope their golden eyes,”

sing the musicians in ” Cymbeline.” Whoever has seen the watery Avon meadows in April, yellow and twinkling with marsh marigolds when ” the lark at heaven’s gate sings,” appreciates why the commentators incline to identify Shakespeare’s Mary-buds with the Caltha of these and our own marshes.

Not for poet’s rhapsodies, but for the more welcome hum of small bees and flies intent on breakfasting do these flowers open in the morning sunshine. Nectar secreted on the sides of each of the many carpels invites a conscientious bee all around the centre, on which she should alight to truly benefit her entertainer. Honey bees may be seen sucking only enough nectar to aid them in storing pollen ; bumblebees feasting for their own benefit, not their descendants’ ; little mining bees and quantities of flies also, although not many species are represented among the visitors, owing to the flower’s early blooming season. Always conspicuous among the throng are the brilliant Syrphidae flies—gorgeous little creatures which show a fondness for blossoms as gaily colored as their own lustrous bodies. Indeed, these are the principal pollinators.

Some country people who boil the young plants declare these “greens” are as good as spinach. What sacrilege to reduce crisp, glossy, beautiful leaves like these to a slimy mess in a pot! The tender buds, often used in white sauce as a substitute for capers, probably do not give it the same piquancy where piquancy is surely most needed—on boiled mutton, said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite dish. Hawked about the streets in tight bunches, the marsh-marigold blossoms—with half their yellow sepals already dropped—and the fragrant, pearly-pink arbutus are the most familiar spring wild flowers seen in Eastern cities.