Marsh Marigold
Marsh Marigold
Terry Bonace
Beverly Shores Environmental Restoration Group
Each spring, the Beverly Shores woodland to the south of the Great Marsh is carpeted in the bright yellow flowers of the marsh marigold (Caltha palustris). Growing frequently alongside skunk cabbage, marsh marigolds are not related to garden marigolds, but are instead close cousins of buttercups (Garden marigolds are closer cousins to sunflowers). Though buttercups have beautiful petals that shine as if covered with lacquer, the marsh marigold lacks petals and instead has bright shiny yellow sepals. Sepals are usually small and green and appear demurely beneath the petals in most showy flower species, but with marsh marigolds, they take center stage.
Marsh Marigold
Marsh marigolds

The flowers of marsh marigolds range in diameter from three-quarters to one and one-half inches. The plant can reach a height of nearly 30 inches. Each plant can have several flower stems with one to seven flowers per stem, helping to create the wonderful show. While real buttercups usually have five petals, marsh marigold can have five to nine bright yellow sepals.

In the Indiana Dunes area, marsh marigolds are most commonly associated with skunk cabbage, often growing in part or full shade in wet woodlands. Marsh marigolds are considered "spring ephemerals" because they flourish during the warm spring time when trees do not yet bear leaves and sun enters the woods. The plants then begin to fade away as the trees fill in with leaves. The hosta-like foliage of the skunk cabbage compliments well the kidney-shaped leaves of the marsh marigold. Skunk cabbage has a strange and foulsmelling flower, tightly enclosed in a sort of sheath, called a spathe. Their flowers are quite discreet, growing close to the muddy soil in which they thrive (so discrete I imagine that many of our readers have never seen the flower) Skunk cabbage blooms very early, sometimes in February or even January. The marsh marigold comes into its own in April or early May. Another wonderful spot to view marsh marigolds used to be along the boardwalk on Trail 2 in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Unfortunately, the boardwalk has all but disintegrated into a few floating boards. One hopes the state park will find the funding to restore this wonderful trail.

Marsh Marigold
Marsh Marigold

I believe that this beautiful spring flower is beginning to appear in some other areas in Beverly Shores as our deer population has declined in the past several years. I have noticed a few marsh marigold both along Broadway, in the wet woods just north of the Administration Building, and along Beverly Drive, near East State Park Road. I used to walk these areas 10 or 15 years ago and look at the poor, lonely skunk cabbage without its colorful companion. Marsh marigolds are referred to as "deer resistant" in the literature. As all of us who have tried to garden in Beverly Shores know, plants identified as "deer resistant" are often nothing of the sort and are readily devoured. So I hypothesize that marsh marigold's reappearance in these areas is related to a reduction in the local deer population. Skunk cabbage, as you might guess by the name, may be too repellent for even the hungriest deer due to the fetid, carrion-like odor of its flower and crushed leaf (the scientific name is Symplocarpus foetidus) . Perhaps as ERG's deer control efforts continue, we can hope to see the same glorious show of marsh marigolds along Broadway, Lake Shore County Road, and Beverly Drive that we see along East State Park Road.

Marsh Marigold
Beverly Shores Environmental Restoration Group,
P.O. Box 667, Beverly Shores, IN 46301