On Gardening: Copper Canyon Daisy casts olfactory spell

November 27, 2014

Copper Canyon daisy, also called mountain marigold, is native to Arizona and northern Mexico.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens it is the Copper Canyon daisy that is guaranteed to put all visitors under a spell from the smell. It happens on a regular basis. After a class, I take the students or clients on a personal tour of the garden. We exit the side door of the conference center right into the Mediterranean Garden, and instantly they become fixated on a shrubby marigold with a tantalizing fragrance.

Oddly enough it makes no difference whether the plant is blooming; the fragrant foliage acts like a Pied Piper drawing them in. It will take several minutes before I can get their attention and can point out the other terrific plants or the nearby hummingbirds or butterflies. Woe be unto me if I canít tell them all of the particulars about this plant. This hypnotic effect on visitors has now made me much more appreciative of its amazing attributes.

The Copper Canyon daisy is native to Arizona and northern Mexico and supposedly to the Copper Canyon area, Mexicoís version of the Grand Canyon. I have been there and indeed it is spectacular. I long for the days of safe adventure riding the train from Chihuahua to Copper Canyon and seeing the incredible vistas all along the way.

Copper Canyon daisy also called mountain marigold, is known botanically as Tagetes lemmonii. The fragrance of the foliage permeates the air with citrus-like scent. You would swear the botanical name originated from the scent, but it is actually in tribute to the man and wife who discovered it, John G. and Sarah Lemmon.

It would be normal if your first thought was that a plant native to Arizona and Northern Mexico would fail to survive in the humid confines of the southeast and particularly coastal Savannah. Many references also suggest that the low to mid- 20ís would be their threshold. Yet it does thrive, and a thirty year freeze with temperatures as low as 16 caused no big issues, as they shot from the ground in the spring.

The Copper Canyon daisy has winner written all over it. It is drought tolerant and tough as nails. Deer and rabbits pose no threat and might possibly act as a deterrent. In the fall when they bloom the most their one and a half-inch marigold-like blossoms bring in an assortment of bees and butterflies.

It is recommended for zones 8 and above, but I would try protected areas of zone 7. It is also easy to propagate by cutting, which means everyone can grow it and enjoy it, then, simply take cuttings to over winter in a protected location. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil, and you will be on your way to horticultural bliss.

In our garden we are growing them with various agave species and lambís ear, whose lacy filigreed-like foliage is an eye catching contrast. The golden-yellow blossoms are also partnered with other great fall bloomers like the purple on purple selection of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and Autumn sage, (Salvia greggii), creating colorful harmony.

Herb lovers will cherish Copper Canyon daisy for not only the fragrance and color but the culinary attributes of both the flower and foliage. I have not eaten either, but there are plenty that tout them.

If you want to create an olfactory or sensory experience your children and grandchildren will remember for a lifetime, then make sure to include the treasured Copper Canyon daisy in your garden next spring.óóó

(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)



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