The bright yellow flowers of the marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) are easy to mistake for the cowslip (primula veris). Both are widespread over Europe, Asia, and the U.S. However, the cowslip is a denizen of fields and pastures while the marsh marigold inhabits sloughs and stream banks.
The marsh marigold has been used for medicinal purposes throughout history and has appeared in literature as far back as the time of Shakespeare. The complete plant is edible but bitter in taste if eaten raw. Most often, the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach.
Related to and resembling a large buttercup, the marsh marigold sprouts from large tufts of growth that spawn large, glossy, kidney-shaped leaves and long, hollow stems, which seem to split into two flower stalks, each bearing a single blossom that may reach two inches in diameter.
You may see wild marsh marigolds in bloom from mid-March through June, but then this demure plant seems to vanish as quickly as it appeared in the spring! Definitely a wildflower, the plant is an herbaceous perennial that is also well-suited as an addition to garden pond edges. Tolerant of light levels from full sun to part shade, the marsh marigold is also a good choice for container gardening in shallow water features.
To grow the marsh marigold, soil should be kept mucky. This is one plant that does like wet feet! Even during dormancy, be sure to keep the soil moist. Propagate the plant by dividing its roots in the autumn.
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