Celosia’s double role
There are few ornamental flowers as dazzling and unique as celosia. Whether it is the feathery, flame-like floral heads of plumed type, which produces upright spires, or the crested type which flower heads are crested by fasciation, a fascinating twisted form. The common name of the species are wool flowers, cockscomb, rooster comb. Brain flower. The flowers are beautiful in fresh bouquets, for dried floral arrangements with bright, long lasting color.
They are dazzlers in the garden. Celosias are one of the eye-catching plants; they bloom in all colors of the rainbow. Celosia is a small genus of ornamental and edible herbaceous plant in the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, and of the wild tropical origin, suspected geographic origin is the dry slopes of tropical Africa and India.
They are perennial in the tropics and self-seed easily. However they can be grown as tender annuals in the summer months in the colder climates. They grow well in both humid and arid conditions, and their flowers can last between 8-10 weeks depending on the location and fertility of the soil. Celosia can range in size from dwarf varieties that only grow four to six inches high to vigorous types over three feet tall. The leaves are either green or bronze/maroon, depending on the cultivar. The flower can be broken into three parts: Their spikes, plumes or crests vary from one another but have standard commonalities – they come in bright colors usually dazzling red, yellow, orange, cream, rose, deep magenta and pink, though other colors can be present.
Less commonly seen are bi-colors. In some instances, a variety of colors are present in hybrids. The three types are simply described as elongated cones, wrinkly-looking knobs or as plumes of jewel-colored feathers. No matter which celosia you choose to grow the flower colors are not for the faint hearted; their vivid colors practically glow, lighting up the garden even on the rainiest days. In addition to their eye-catching magnificence in the garden, taller varieties are excellent as cut flowers- both fresh and dried.
There are about 60 species of annual or perennial celosia. The three common forms of celosia belong to only two species, Celosia argentea (aka Cristata L.) and celosia spicata.
Celosia argentea is comprised of two groups, plumed celosia belongs to the plumosa group, which bears fluffy, feathery heads composed of hundreds of tiny flowers comes in colors of bright red, yellow, apricot orange with dark bronze foliage. The cristata group, best known as crested celosia or cockscomb, is suggestive of a highly colored brain – no gray matter there, just brilliant colored hues. Some varieties are wider than others; the narrow ones definitely reminiscent of a roosters’ comb.
Celosia spicata, spiked cockscomb, is also known as wheat celosia for its narrow, spiky flower heads, reminiscent of heads of wheat. Unlike C. argentea, spiked cockscomb produces numerous flowers with an almost shrubby look, in more muted colors of deep wine, purple red, pink and white. Some come with foliage of bright green, washed with purple.
Celosia are easy to grow from seeds since the plants are of tropic origin, celosias are warm weather plants. They thrive in areas of tropical climate. However, they can also grow in cooler regions, if the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Versatile, celosias grow in most types of soil- even heavy clay- as long as they are in full sun. Even in heat waves you can count on celosia to come through heat and drought unscathed. The plants are hardy and resistant to most pests and diseases, and grow equally well indoors or out, though the perfect place is one without shade. It takes about 90days to flower after planting. Sow seeds ½ inch deep and cover loosely with soil. Keep soil lightly moisted until seeds germinate. Once plants have two sets of true leaves, thin the seedlings and space leaving the largest and strongest.
The plants are relatively easy to grow and care for, having few insects that feed on them. Take advantage of the low maintenance, high-impact, Even though celosia will grow in poor, rocky or sandy soil, they will thrive best in rich, well-drained garden soil.
Aspects of Celosia
If they can grow so successfully with so little attention imagine what a show they can make in the hands of someone who loves plants and has an artistic eye and doesn’t grow them in the typical rows. Although spiked celosias (C.spicata) are almost bushy in appearance with numerous flowers, most plumed and crested celosias produce one large central flower and possibly several smaller flowers on side shoots. The tiny flower forms when the plant is small, as the plant grows, so does the flower. In the case of some large cockscomb grow up to 30 inches high and 10 inches across the, flower are so large they make the plant top heavy requiring staking.
Celosias make beautiful container plantings- alone or combined with other plants that like the same sunny growing conditions. Unless you grow a single plant in a container, plumes will be somewhat narrower than if planted on the ground. The key to a well designed container is to include three plants forms; rounded, spiky, frilly(or plant that will spillover the rim of the pot and soften the edges). Plumed celosias fit the bill for spiky, and crested celosias as rounded. For containers choose varieties that grow less than two feet tall.
Growing Celosias Indoors
Choose low growing variety (known as super dwarf). Grow these containers indoors or out; indoors make sure they get at least eight to ten hours of direct sunlight a day.
Celosia plumosa are excellent houseplants. The potted plants will show colors for a month or more under low light conditions.
Pests and Diseases
The only problems that can befall celosias are mites, leaf spots, and stem rots. They are easily preventable by eliminating the cause; wet soil and cool weather. To avoid this, grow celosias in well-drained soil and mulch with organic matter or simply grow them in a raised bed. Also avoid wetting the leaves and flowers as they can lead to fungal diseases.
Uses as a Garden Plant
Celosia argentea and spicata species are common garden or ornamental plants. It is used in Africa to help control growth of parasitic Striga plant; it can be used in soaps.
It is reportedly used by Chinese herbalists to stop bleeding, treat diseases of the blood, and infections of urinary tract.
The leaves and flowers are edible and are grown for such use in Africa, northern south America, Caribbean, South, East and South-East Asia where it is grown as a native or naturalized wild flower, and is cultivated a nutritious leafy green vegetable. As a grain cockscomb is a psendo-cereal.
Celosia argentea-var. argentea or “Lagos spinach” is one of the leading leafy green vegetables consumed in West Africa. In hausa its called Farar alayyafo or soko yokoto in Yoruba meaning “make husbands fat and happy.”
For all celosias, whether you want to use them as fresh or dried flowers, cut the flowers when they are fully developed. Cut the flower early in the day when the dew has dried. For dried arrangements remove all the leaves from the stems and wrap a rubber band around 6 to 8 stems and hang upside down in a dark, cool, airy space for several weeks until fully dried. They will last in dried arrangements for at least 6 months without losing their vibrancy. Crafters use celosia flowers to add vibrant colors to dried wreaths and swags. The use for dried celosia is limited only by your imagination.
Whether as a beautiful, easy to plant, low maintenance ornamental or as a vegetable source of cheap foodstuff “ to make husbands fat and happy”, celosia’s double role makes it the one plant for you to have in your garden.