Celosia, a Favorite of Floral Designers and Gardeners Alike
The cockscomb outdid itself in my garden this summer.
Simply because the summer was gone and winter approaching, I cut the stems and brought them inside to dry. They just thought their life was over. I have plans for them that would boggle their minds had they one.
Celosia argentea (sel-O-see-a ar-JEN-tee-uh) is a flowering annual that gives welcome color to gardens during warm summer months. A member of the Amaranthaceae family, it is called by such common names as cockscomb (or cock’s comb), wheat celosia, woolflower, feathered celosia, or simply celosia. Native to tropical and sub-tropical Americas, Africa, and Asia, it blooms as long as the weather is warm and summer-like.
Celosia argentea, like other annuals, grows, blooms, and sets seed within one growing season. Seed setting is serious business with this group of annuals. One blossom of cockscomb provides hundreds of tiny black seeds that look somewhat like poppy seeds. Wherever one blooms this year, many are sure to come up the following year if the seeds fall on bare soil.
Celosia argentea offers great variety in choices for the summer garden. One flower head or inflorescence (cluster) has hundreds of tiny flowers that combine to make a soft, velvety textured mass. Within the different varieties, the flower clusters may contain many wheatlike spikes or they may be shaped like feathery Christmas trees. Others have enlarged, flattened, crested heads that resemble a cockscomb or a crinkled, velvety brain. Colors are often brilliant, and can be orange, yellow, red, burgundy, pink, or white and all shades between. Adding to their attractiveness are oval or lance-shaped, strongly veined green, red, or burgundy leaves. All varieties dry well and are easily used in floral designs.
Growing Conditions and Garden Uses
Grow these tender annuals in full sun and rich, loamy, well-drained but moist soil. Space plants far enough apart to allow flowers to grow to maturity and still have space for air circulation between plants. Avoid wetting the flowers or leaves. Mulch to retain moisture. Plants resent root disturbance and are easily started from seeds. If purchased in cell packs, look for plants that have not yet begun to flower. These make great plants for children's gardens because of their unusual shapes and bright colors, just remember that as annuals, they will die after the first hard frost, but that makes an excellent teaching moment to introduce seed saving to a new generation!
Celosias are typically planted in masses in flower beds and borders. The small varieties, particularly of the plumosa group, are excellent in containers or at the front of a bed. The taller types are better in the middle or back of a sunny border. The only caution is to place them carefully. Because of the dramatic color of some of the selections, they may not blend in well with other flowers.
Varieties or Groups of Celosia argentea
Celosia argentea var. plumosa, often referred to as the plumosa group, bears vertical, feathery, plumelike flower heads that resemble tiny Christmas trees. Plants in this group grow anywhere from 6 to 36 inches tall.
Celosia argentea var. cristata, referred to as the cristata group, is characterized by compact crested or fan-shaped flower heads with often bizarre, convoluted ridges reminiscent of a cauliflower head or a rooster’s comb. Flower heads grow 3 to 12 inches across.
Celosia argentea var. spicata, or the spicata group which is commonly referred to as wheatstraw celosia or flamingo flower, bears slender spikes of pink to rose inflorescences. Each individual floret is silvery white at its base.
Celosia argentea var. argentea is a weedy form of the plant that grows up to 6 feet tall. Silvery white, erect plums of flowers come up wherever seeds fall.
It is the cristata group that provided so much enjoyment this summer. First, the stems were cut and hung upside down in the laundry room. Four or five stems were lashed together with rubber bands, hung on clothes hangers, and covered carefully with a large paper bag. The paper bag collected seeds that fell from the flower clusters. Enough seeds fell from the clusters to provide a whole garden club enough seeds to grow a bed of celosia next summer.
If one is willing, the flower clusters can be cut before the seeds develop. They dry well, and one is not bothered with prodigious seed shedding. However, those gardeners who are like me have trouble cutting flowers when they are at their best in the garden.
Now that the flowerheads are dry, I can show them off in pretty bowls or baskets. Later I plan to use some of them in floral designs. Color is long-lasting and the flower clusters hold together well for a long time. Celosia remains a favorite flower for floral designers and gardeners alike. If you have not tried this showy annual, next summer just may be the time to give it a try.
Note: Thanks to the Dave's Garden contributors for their photographs.