Exploring my little piece of the planet

Yellow Marsh Marigold

or Marsh Marigold, Kingcup
Caltha palustris

While so many of our spring flowers are miniscule, the Marsh Marigold is a delight to discover in an open area by a sluggish stream. The plant itself is brilliant and showy with its large waxy leaves. Many a bowl of reassuring freshness has adorned spring tables through freezing nights and late snows.

It’s so scrumptious looking that you might be tempted to take a bite…but don’t! This entire plant is poisonous. It is toxic to the heart and can cause inflammation of the digestive organs. Handling the leaves can cause the skin to blister. The poison is volatile however and dried or cooked it is rendered harmless.

The spring blossoms of the marsh marigold have long been appreciated for their early colour.  Like earthbound sunshine, patches of brilliant yellow set among shining green rise from brown and crumpled grasses in boggy roadside ditches and fens in early to mid June, as if beckoning returning waterfowl to potential, if not ideal nesting sites.

A polymorphic species, it occurs throughout the northern hemisphere in varied forms and goes by many names, most of which celebrate its welcome as a beautiful harbinger of spring. ‘Marigold’, used now over much of the modern english-speaking world, originated with Anglo-saxon celebrants of Easter, who gave the name to honour the Christian St. Mary.

By the end of July the waxy blossoms have done their work and the stellate seed clusters adorn the softened, but still handsome mound of leaves.

Depending on the source, the genus name ‘Caltha’ may refer to the colour or to the cup shape of the opening blossoms. Its species name, ‘palustris’, meaning ‘of the marsh’, clearly describes its habitat.

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Other Resources:

Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland by Derek Johnson et al. Lone Pine, Alberta 1995
Wildflowers of Alberta by R.G.H. Cormack. Hurtig, Alberta 1977
Common Plants of the Western Rangelands: Volume 3 – Forbs
by Kathy Tannas. Olds College, Alberta 2004

Caltha palustris on Wikipedia
Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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12 responses

  1. Gosh, I just realized that I haven’t seen any marsh marigolds since I moved to Nova Scotia. I used to love their showy early-spring, display back in Ontario. Didn’t realized how toxic they were … but then, isn’t everything ?

    August 20, 2011 at 6:06 am

    • Hi Sybil. This plant likes its drink to be slightly acidic so I wonder if that means that its not likely to be close to salt water. Just a guess. I enjoy learning about native plants that are edible and although I’m reluctant to pick them (I don’t want to contribute to their decimation), I believe that with enough knowledge, one could survive quite well in the forest at least in the summer. And yes, in excess, probably just about everything is toxic. Thanks for your comment.

      August 21, 2011 at 6:27 am

  2. Lovely photos to showcase a beautiful plant. I do not think I have ever seen these in the wild – it is so much fun to learn about the flora in your geography from your blog.

    August 20, 2011 at 7:05 am

    • If you ever see them, you’ll remember. They really stand out in the springtime. I don’t think they grow as far south as Georgia though. Thanks for your encouragement, Shelley. I appreciate it very much.

      August 21, 2011 at 6:32 am

  3. pixilated2

    These are lovely! But, I wonder who figured out to boil them before eating? Seems to me you would have to be starving to death to risk touching, much less trying to eat these by boiling!

    I picture it: “Oooh, that was really painful and I almost died… so OK, shall we boil it and try it again?”

    Lynda 😉

    August 20, 2011 at 7:56 am

    • Too funny, Lynda. I love your sense of humour. I believe that globally, the first peoples had nature wisdom that has probably been lost forever. They knew the earth and could read the signs fluently enough that they just knew that this plant could be eaten if boiled. Thanks for the chuckle though. I too, am not brave enough to try it.

      August 21, 2011 at 6:38 am

      • pixilated2

        “I too, am not brave enough to try it.”

        And a good thing too as I would surely miss all your loveliness! ~ L

        August 21, 2011 at 7:39 am

  4. Thanks so much for this. Last year we found these plants by a mountain stream but couldn’t identify them because our only field guide at the time was to Mediterranean flora and it didn’t list them. Now with your help I’ve turned to our new guide to non-Mediterranean plants and found the very marsh marigold you’ve so wonderfully described. Thanks for filling in a floral gap all the way over here!

    August 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    • I’m so excited that my post helped you identify your plant, Julian. It makes this all so much more than a self-indulgence. I’m confused though. Would the whole region not be considered Mediterranean?

      August 22, 2011 at 5:02 am

  5. If only it were that easy! Because of how far north into the Balkan peninsula we are, Prespa straddles what is considered to be Mediterranean and Alpine zones. The fact that it’s a meeting ground between the two is the very reason it is so diverse in birds, flowers and other creatures. Though I can’t say for certain, my guess would be that the marsh marigold in a non-Mediterranean species, hence it existing in my guide to northern plants but not southern. So it’s found a home here, but probably not any further south.

    August 22, 2011 at 5:38 am

    • Thank you for explaining, Julian. This plant grows lush and vigorously in the cool spring, so it makes sense that it would grow in the alpine zone. Such natural diversity must be fascinating and valuable. I hope it will be protected.

      August 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

  6. Pingback: Caltha palustris | Find Me A Cure

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