Marsh marigold, also known as kingcup, is believed to be one of Britain’s most ancient native plants. It may have been growing here since before the last Ice Age and, after the retreat of the icecaps, it proliferated across the watery landscape. It is a spectacular-looking plant, with large rich yellow flowers, each with five petals, and shiny green, heart-shaped leaves borne on long, smooth hollow stems.
A perennial, marsh marigold is in flower from March to August, and is one of the first plants to appear. It has been long regarded as a herald of spring and in the Isle of Man it was the centre of a custom known as ‘bringing in the mayflower’. The flowers were scattered over doorsteps on the eve of May Day.
This plant’s range can best be described as circumboreal, meaning ‘around the north’. Marsh marigold is found across most of the UK and Europe (although rare in Mediterranean regions), Northern Asia and large parts of North America.
Although marsh marigold declined somewhat in the UK through drainage of land for farming during the 1970s, its distribution has changed little. The withdrawing of agricultural grants for draining wetland stabilised this decline, and there is no perceived threat to its survival as a native species.
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