There are few challenges a gardener would not take on when it comes to the art of outdoor decorating … but finding something bolder or more striking than celosia, is one of them. With its origins under much debate, it is clear they were once found on the dry slopes of Africa, or so the story goes. Whether that is their true origin or not, it is clearly a place they enjoy residing. Other places they’ve called home are India and rocky regions of North and South America.
The name celosia is derived from the Greek word “kēlos”, meaning “burned”, which resembles the visual appearance of one of our commonly available varieties, celosia plumosa. Flame like in its shape, coupled with the sometimes fiery and sometimes burnt colours, it’s a perfect fit. The other variety you’ll find most often is celosia cristata, also known as, cockscomb. Some say it was named as such because of the visual similarity of the bloom to the comb on a rooster’s head, while others lament over its likeness to the patterns on the brain, symbolising bright thoughts.
This fiery annual, from the Amaranthaceae family, will light up any garden with its intense shades of red, orange, yellow, hot pink, rose, mahogany and magenta. The blooming time that normally lasts about eight weeks, undaunted by our unrelenting sun, can be stretched even longer with deadheading. That being said, they really don’t enjoy the cold, so expecting them to last past the first frosts might be a tad optimistic. Getting them into the ground as early in spring as possible will ensure the longest possible show.
Remembering their comfort zones being on the dry African slopes should give some clues as to the type of home you should look at providing these lovelies. Full sun and well-draining soil is a good start and it would be best not to overwater them. Try not to plant them with other annuals or plants that require regular watering, especially if you’re using an automated sprinkler system. Not that one generally requires a reason to enforce the benefits of water wise plants, but celosia are also prone to root fungus, which is just one more reason to ensure you keep the watering to a minimum.
Celosia don’t even blink when exposed to harsh winds, so bring on those coastal gardens! On the overall, celosia is an exceptionally hardy little annual. In fact, there used to be talk of them being thoughts of as weeds because of their exceptionally tiny seeds and ease with which the germinated and grew. Thanks to modern hybridising though, this is no longer the case as the plants are now sterile and pose no risk to the local habitat of self-seeding.