There is good reason to believe that our common Marsh Marigold is of the same sort as that which was immortalized by the Christians during the Middle Ages, who dedicated this flower to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The name was originally Mary's Gold, and Shakespeare refers to it in Cymbeline, where the musicians sing:
"Hearke, hearke, the Lark at Heaven's gate sings, and Phoebus gins arise, His steeds to water at those Springs on chalic'd Flowers that lyes: And winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes: With everything that pretty is, my Lady sweet, arise. Arise, arise."
It is just as well to know, however, that the names Marigold and Cowslip are more commonly and truthfully applied to altogether different species. Marigolds, as almost everyone knows, are the favourite, old-fashioned, coarse-smelling, rough-and-ready garden flowers which delighted our grandmothers, while the Cowslips are, in reality, a species of Primrose. Do you wonder what's in a name? The scientific name, Caltha, means cup, and palus, a marsh -hence Marsh Cup, a name which has some real significance, and is aptly applied. The Marsh Marigolds flourish along the wet borders of streams and marshes, where the roots are more or less in the water and the ground is springy and wet. Early in April the beautiful, bright yellow cups of the flowers reflect the glory of the sun from amid a thrifty, bushy clump of crisp, glossy green leaves. They blossom in great profusion, and their attractive flowers are gathered in the spring, tied in bunches, and sold along the streets of our larger cities as Cowslips. The entire plant, root, stalk, leaf and flower, surely indicates the perfection of a vigorous, healthy growth, which they enjoy, and were it less snappy and effective, it might be called coarse, rather than delicate. The large, showy, saucer-shaped flower measures an inch or an inch and a half across, and resembles a good-sized Buttercup as much as anything. Like the Hepaticas, the Marsh Marigolds do not possess true petals; but the broad oval sepals, from five to ten in number, serve in their stead. The glossy, delicate-textured flowers emit a slight odour, and have numerous stamens and pistils. The stout, smooth, hollow stalk is often branched at the top where the flowers are borne during April, May, and June, and it grows a foot or two in height. The smooth, rich, bright green leaves are generally rounded and heart-shaped at the base, and are broader than long. The lower ones have long, thick stems, rising directly from the root. The upper ones are usually stemless, and are set directly on the stalk, particularly where it branches. The leaves are used as a spring vegetable, and, together with the stalks and buds, are boiled and eaten like spinach, to which it is said to be superior. The Marsh Marigolds range from New Brunswick to the Rocky Mountains, and south to Iowa and South Carolina.