When it comes to enjoyable South African exports, the Grammy Award-winning musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo comes to mind, as do the many precious gems and minerals the country sends abroad.
But in the gardening world, we have a particular reason to thank this diverse nation on the southern tip of the African continent.
Also known as African daisies, the cape marigold (Dimorphotheca sinuata) is a botanical gift that now thrives in many parts of the United States as a lovely annual that has even naturalized itself in California, Oregon, and Arizona.
After a brief interruption, we’ll tell you all about this hardy beauty and how you might be able to add a piece of Africa to your own garden.
Dimorphotheca vs. Osteospermum
This article is about Dimorphotheca sinuata. Another plant, whose scientific name is Osteospermum, also goes by African daisy. Just to confuse things.
Apparently, long, long ago in a land far, far away, Osteospermum were included in the genus Dimorphotheca.
However, as they are wont to do, botanists did the plant shuffle, and Osteospernum was moved out… leaving mass confusion.
Other than to mention that Osteospermum is a perennial, whereas Dimorphotheca is an annual, and to say that both are in the Asteraceae (aster) family, we’ll leave any further discussion about Osteospermum for another day.
Rainbow of Colors From a Rainbow Nation
Like the rainbow nation it comes from – so dubbed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe South Africa’s diverse peoples – cape marigold also grows in a rainbow of colors, including white, tan, purple, yellow, gold, orange, and red-orange.
The two- to four-inch flower — which opens in the morning and closes at night — is typically daisy-like, with a single or double layer of radial petals.
This prolific bloomer grows to between eight and 18 inches tall, with a 12-inch spread. While its appearance is lovely, its innards are toxic, so it’s not one to add to the salad mix.
It is grown throughout the United States in Zones 3-10, and attracts bees and butterflies.
How to Choose?
A number of commercial varieties of cape marigolds are available from online resources.
Via Amazon, Underthesunseeds sells a lovely salmon variety.
You might also like this white cultivar, which teases the eye with just the faintest hint of purple. It’s available from Seedville via Amazon.
To add a number of colors to your garden, check out this rainbow seed mix from True Leaf Market.
Blowin’ in the Wind
The plants do well spaced nine to 12 inches apart, but will also tolerate a bit of crowding, and produce a breathtaking color mass.
Cape marigold aren’t too picky about soil, and will do well in poor, sandy soil, as long as it is well-drained. Light loam is okay, too, but you might not have great luck with clay.
This plant will reseed, but its brownish, papery seeds are easily blown away. Your best bet is to collect the seeds and plant them yourself next season.
In fact, the seeds’ tendency to blow away and infiltrate other garden areas is cause for concern in some parts of the American Southwest, where conservationists have expressed concern about the extremely drought-tolerant cape marigold “taking over” areas once populated by native species.
A Little Water, Some Food, and That’s It
Keep young plants moist, until they reach about four inches tall. Then, you can allow them to survive on rainwater, unless you experience a particularly long dry spell.
Too much water produces a leggy, floppy, and sprawling plant.
You can apply a balanced fertilizer a couple times during the growing season, but you may find you don’t even need that.
Deadhead spent blooms to keep flowers coming back.
These easy-care plants aren’t plagued to any large degree by any particular pests or diseases.
An International Delight
Queue up some Ladysmith Black Mambazo on your outdoor speakers, sit on the porch with a glass of iced rooibos tea, gaze at the masses of colorful, daisy-like flowers, and enjoy your virtual visit to South Africa!
These trouble-free flowers will reward you with profuse and lovely hues all summer long.
Whatever you call them African daisies or cape marigolds, tell us about your love of these African imports in the comments section below. And feel free to share a photo!
Product photos via Underthesunseeds, Seedville and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.