OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312



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 Tanacetum vulgare



Tansy in early sources




   Description      Propagation      Cultivation        Harvest

Scientific name

Tanacetum is derived from Greek athanaton, immortal, perhaps because its flowers last a very long time. In Greek mythology this herb was given to Ganymede, most beautiful of men and cupbearer to the gods, to make him immortal. For centuries, tansy was traditionally placed in coffins because of this association with immortality (in 1846, when the grave of the first president of Harvard was moved, the tansy that lined his coffin had maintained its shape and fragrance, and helped to identify the president’s remains).

Common names, modern

Tansy, buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons


Lifespan Perennial
Cold hardiness Zones 4-9



30" H x 20" wide


A shrubby plant, taller than it is wide


Small yellow composite flowers, about 1/2" wide, appear in late summer and early fall in flat, terminal cymes. Flowers and foliage are aromatic, scented of camphor and rosemary.


Dark green, ferny leaves up to 6" long, feathery and attractive, with reddish stems

Comments This is a vigorous and invasive plant than can be difficult to eradicate if it escapes from the garden.

Sadly, tansy is now classified as a noxious weed in 45 states, a fact that makes it crucial to keep it under control in the garden. It is propagated by seed and also by root cuttings.

One way to control tansy in your garden (and it does require control, says this voice of experience) is to grow it in a large pot. Be careful to cover the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, or the roots will grow out into the soil, where they will radiate out and grow into more plants.

To prevent this, cut two layers of thick, permeable, woven landscape cloth into a circle whose diameter is 5" wider than that of the base of the pot. Then press the cloth snugly down inside the pot, snugging it up to the base, and extending it fairly evenly up the inner sides of the pot, holding it in place with soil. Then plant your plant or seeds, and set the pot outside in your garden.

A single plant will have 20-200 flower heads per stem, and is capable of producing 50,000 seeds in a season. Seed that remains on the plant can be viable for up to three years.

Be vigilant about deadheading plants; put spent flowers in a container as you pull them off and then burn or otherwise destroy the blooms to prevent seed from forming or being dispersed. Don't compost flowers or plants, nor send them to the landfill with your yard waste.

In your garden, keep an eye out for unwanted volunteers, and uproot them as soon as they appear. Don't mow tansy, as this encourages spreading by broadcasting seeds and bits of root.


Soil Likes roadsides, field margins, stream banks, abandoned farm fields, open savannahs, meadows
Moisture Tolerates drought
Light Full sun
Natural habitat Tansy is not native to the US, but had arrived here as seed, brought by the Puritans in 1631. Today, it is widely naturalized, and is happiest in disturbed ground, wasteland, and roadsides.
Vigor Vigorous and invasive!
Diseases Rarely affected by disease
Pests Tansy has been grown as a companion plant to fruit trees, roses, cucumbers and squash, and raspberries. It repels flying insects, Japanese beetles, striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and ants. One study found that interplanting potatoes with tansy reduced potato beetle populations by 60-100%.


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