Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Brain Game

Isn't this the greatest funky looking brain plant you've ever seen?

It's celosia, better known as cockscomb.  It's an annual in Zone 5.  In many warm and tropic areas, it grows wild and is considered food.   Up here it's a rather inexpensive hoot and a half.  I don't think I've walked by it once that it hasn't brought a smile to my face.

I bought it on a whim (I was probably smiling at the time) and I have no idea of the particular name or even where it came from.  It has nice chartreuse leaves and has done well by itself in a pot. 

There are three types of cockscomb:  c. plumosa and c. crestada .  Plumes are upright feather looking and crests are wrinkled brain looking (as I've pictured).  C. specata is the narrow spiked version that has the form of wheat and may be used as a small shrub. 

I bought several types of cockscomb this year, most a color mixture of the upright type.  They've done alright and to be fair, they don't really like dry conditions.  We in the Midwest are loosing our battle to keep most annuals in pots thriving.  As my friend Pat said, "They just don't do as well watering as they do when it rains on them." 

Cockscomb is an old garden plant and can be a wild and crazy addition.  The Victorians were mad for them.  They do edges well, make accents, and if you have loads, they can be picked for the vase.  They make an excellent dried flower.  Some can add height to a pot at up to four foot tall, while others can stand alone.  (Tall ones may need staking if you have wind.)

Celosia needs full sun, do not cramp the roots, rich well drained moist soil, high humidity, and fertilize once a month with a complete fertilizer (30-10-20 is good).  If you want the plume variety to branch, pinch the tops about three weeks after planting. 

Given the right place, you could move your pots of cockscomb inside for the winter. 
Celosia is a tough plant and will seldom be bothered by storms and rain (if only we had some) and few pests or diseases.  Amazingly, they are very soft to touch; almost like velvet.  They belong to the amaranth family.  There are about 60 species.    

You can grow from seed or buy plant sets.  Buy healthy cockscomb at a nursery, if possible.  They will take right off and do well without a long nurse back to health period neglected plants will need.
It pairs well with foliage plants such as sweet potato vine.  Next time you want something bright and beautiful, try some brain power. 

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