This colorful array of cockscombs occupies a special place in the plant range. With its colors and extravagantly shaped flowers, celosia is an eye-catching character with an almost sensual look. The plant comes in various forms: with flaming torches, narrow spikes or a fairytale comb that looks like a brain. The colors are dazzling: white, red, yellow, pink, purple, orange, green or multicolored. Celosia has a light spicy scent and brings joy for months with its unusual flowers.
The origins of the celosia (Celosia argentea) are actually quite mysterious. It’s believed to have originated in Africa, but is widely established throughout the tropics, both as a garden plant and in the wild, having escaped from cultivation in many areas, including in Asia and South and Central America.
The plant is a member of the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae) which also includes other flamboyant characters such as Amaranthus and Atriplex. Even its name specifies its striking nature. Celosia comes from the Ancient Greek word kḗleos for burning, reflecting the torchlike appearance of its bold bloom.
If you want to wish someone courage for something exciting, celosia makes a very fitting gift.
Both Pretty and Tasty
Few gardeners in temperate areas know that celosia is popular vegetable and grain plant in mild climates. It’s grown for its edible leaves, stems and young flowers, sometimes under the name Lagos spinach. In Nigeria, it’s called “soto yokoto”, which translates as “keep your husbands fat and happy”. Typically, it is eaten steamed or boiled, often in stews, and has a mild spinach-like taste due to the oxalic acid it contains, but has to be harvested while young and tender: mature leaves and stems are bitter.
The seeds can also be harvested and cooked or ground into flour.
Celosias vary in nutrition at various times in their life cycle, but are generally good sources of vitamins A and C, as well as iron and proteins. The seeds are especially rich in the latter.
Celosia as a Houseplant
Although celosia has long been grown as a garden annual in temperate climates, it actually makes a wonderful if temporary houseplant, lasting 9 months or more. It can easily be found in a nursery or florist shop as a gift plant or you can grow your own from seed. Or start some for the outdoor garden and keep a few pots for the inside of your home as well.
Celosia as a Cut Flower
Celosia also makes a great cut flower, fresh or dried. To dry it, cut stems and remove the leaves, then hang them upside down in loose bunches in a dark, cool, dry, airy space for several weeks or until fully dried. Dried celosias can last for years.
Celosias have been subject to intense breeding in recent years, with amazing results in terms of color, flower type and lifespan.
There are three different cultivar groups:
Plume celosia (C. argentea var. plumosa), with feathery plumes.
Wheat celosia (C. argentea var. spicata), with small spiky flowers.
Cockscomb celosia (Celosia argentea var. cristata), whose condensed flowers are fasciated, that is, grow as crests, looking like coral or even a convoluted brain.
The flower colors can range from bright to pastel shades, and from unicolors to bicolors. The leaves can be green, golden, red or purple. Plants are available in various sizes and colors, some no more than 10 inches (25 cm) high, while others can top 6 feet (180 cm), although dwarf to medium sizes are best as houseplants
What to Look for When Buying Celosias
- Check the proportion between pot size, diameter and thickness of the plant (determined by the number of stems per pot).
- Check the number of flower buds and their maturity. Don’t neglect the foliage, either, as it can be quite colorful, combining attractively with the shade of the flowers.
- Celosia must be free of pests and diseases. When the flowers or the foliage are damaged or flawed, this is often the result of shipping or storage. There can also be wilted flowers on the plant, or the plant may show yellow foliage. Botrytis—a fungal infection—can occur if too much (condensation) moisture is left between the leaves for a long time. If a plant has been sitting in soggy soil for a long time, it can show signs of root rot.
- Check the plant for pests such as whitefly, aphids or red spider mite, although this is less common thanks to today’s cultivation and breeding of crops.
Once in bloom, celosia prefers a cool and light spot to ensure the longest flowering.
- The soft leaves mean that they lose a lot of moisture to evaporation and therefore need a bit more water than other houseplants, particularly during hot summer weather. Make sure the soil never dries out. Slightly drooping leaves are a signal that it’s time for a good drink!
- Give the plant some soluble fertilizer once every two weeks.
- Deadheading will stimulate continuous bloom.
- Don’t place Celosia near the fruit bowl! Fruit emits ethylene gas which causes flowers to age more rapidly.
- Celosias can also be placed outdoors on the balcony or patio during the summer months or, as mentioned, used as an annual bedding plant.
To Grow Your Own
If you want to start your own celosias from seed, start them indoors under bright light in April or early May. Sow in moist seedling mix and barely cover the seeds. Use peat pots if possible, as the young plants don’t handle transplanting well. Bottom heat is helpful in stimulating germination. Grow the seedlings in a warm spot under the brightest light available, thinning to one plant per pot. Transplant into 6-inch (15 cm) pots as the plants grow, repotting at the same depth as in the seedling pot.
Creative tips for Celosia
Celosia colors and shapes fit perfectly with a trendy urban vibe.
For a contemporary display, think of pots with a graffiti design, painted cans, recycled plastic, somber concrete and bubble-gum colors. Strong patterns, bold colors and the lack of a consistent style reinforce the sense of a unique plant with personality that fits with the times.
Text and photos, unless otherwise mentioned, adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties