What is that smell? Ripe passionfruit...mint...a hint of camphor. Brush by the foliage of mountain marigold and you are hit with a distinctive, pungent fragrance that some people just don't like. Mountain marigold, or Copper Canyon daisy, is a sprawling, shrubby perennial daisy with delicately filigreed highly aromatic foliage. The lacy compound leaves are 2-6 in (5-15 cm)long, with serrated leaflets. The flower heads are almost 2 in (5 cm) across, with bright yellow-gold rays and darker yellow discs. Mountain marigold forms a sprawling mound up to 4 ft (1.2 m) high and 6 ft (2 m) across.
Mountain marigold occurs naturally in mountain canyons between 4000 ft (1200 m) and 8000 ft (2400 m) above sea level in northern Mexico and southern Arizona. It was discovered in the late 1800's in southeastern Arizona, by the Lemmons, husband and wife plant collectors. The famous Harvard University botanist, Asa Gray, named the plant after the couple.
Plant mountain marigold in a place where it can be free to sprawl all summer, since frequent pruning is said to inhibit flowering. Unlike annual marigolds, mountain marigold is not susceptible to spider mites. Light: Mountain marigold does best in full sun, but can take a light, high shade. It gets leggy and may not bloom in full shade. Moisture: Mountain marigold must be grown in well drained soil. It is very tolerant of drought conditions. Just be sure to keep a new plant well watered until it is established. This is a plant that will thrive on thin, chalky soils. Give the plant plenty of water and fertilizer and it will sprawl excessively producing elongated, droopy stems. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-11. Moutain marigold is often said to have a USDA hardiness range of 9b-11, but like so many other Zone 9 and 10 perennials, it usually comes back in spring after freezing to the ground in winter. It has returned here in my North Florida garden after a winter low of 17°F (-8°C). In frost-free locations, it blooms all winter and into spring. Propagation: Cuttings are very easy to root. You also can divide clumps in spring or plant from seed.
Mountain marigold is a shrubby perennial that tends to sprawl - especially in rich soils or when well supplied with moisture (like this one after a stormy summer).
Mountain marigold is very tolerant of heat, drought and poor, calcareous soils, so plant it where other, more finicky flowers might not be happy. Mountain marigold blooms only during short-day seasons, so be patient as the shrub grows throughout the summer; it will reward you with a brilliant display of yellow flowers in the fall and winter (until the first frost). White-tailed deer don't eat mountain marigold, but the bees and butterflies love the flower's nectar.
I like to plant mountain marigold along paths in the landscape, and at the edges of perennial beds so I get the smell every time I brush by. Some people can't stand the smell, though.
Tagetes palmeri is a very closely related marigold from Sonora that is a little larger and more robust, and not quite as cold tolerant as T. lemmonii. It has been suggested that some of the mountain marigolds found in the nursery trade are actually this species. Mexican tarragon Tagetes lucida is another fall blooming shrubby marigold with aromatic foliage.