ATLIXCO, Mexico – Planted once a year and picked four months later, the bright orange Aztec marigold is a way of life for thousands of people in the central state of Puebla and crowns the offerings honoring the dearly departed on Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
Due to its color and unusual fragrance, this special marigold is given in remembrance of the deceased and helps guide their immortal souls to these festivities, which reach their peak on Nov. 1-2.
In the Atlixco municipality, home to some 100,000 people, growing this flower becomes a priority during its season and is afterwards distributed to a large part of Mexico.
Known as the “cempasuchil” in Mexico, its name is of pre-Columbian origin and combines the Nahuatl words “cempohualli” (twenty) and “xochitl” (flower).
The marigold comes in more than 30 varieties and colors, but for the use given it in the month of November only the orange will do.
These flowers are grown only once a year and are collected after just four months. Starting in May the land is prepared and the seeds readied, then they are sown, fertilized, fumigated and irrigated, all with great care in order to grow the finest crops.
Rustic country roads lead to the croplands covered with these flowers, approximately 50 centimeters (20 inches) tall and of different shapes.
Workers start their day in the earliest hours so they can collect the greatest number of blossoms to be sure of satisfying all the customers.
Puebla has become the largest producer of marigolds because around 50 municipalities of the 217 in the region are dedicated to their annual production, with the result that in all of Mexico’s 32 states this flower can be purchased in the finest condition.
An area of 1,705 hectares (4,213 acres) of marigolds produces the 15,522 tons of flowers collected in the region.
That accounts for 21.43 percent of national production and provides revenues of more than 830 million pesos ($43.5 million).
According to tradition, on Oct. 28, the souls arrive of those who lost their lives in accidents or sudden deaths, whereas those of little girls and boys descend on Oct. 30-31, as do the souls of adults on Nov. 1, while on Nov. 2, blessings and offerings are bestowed in remembrance of all the deceased.