Wheat celosia, Celosia spicata

Celosia spicata in full bloom.

Celosia is a genus of edible and ornamental herbaceous annuals and perennials in the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae) native to Africa, North America and South America. Celosia spicata (= C. argentea var. spicata) is a summer annual or short-lived perennial (zones 9-11) grown as an ornamental for its distinctive, erect flower spikes sort of reminiscent of a sheaf of wheat that give it the common name of wheat celosia. C. argentea var. argentea is also used as a leaf vegetable in tropical Africa, East and Southeast Asia and other places for the soft texture and mild spinach-like taste of the foliage.

Other species of Celosia commonly grown as ornamentals include C. cristata (L) and C. plumosa (R).

Other species of celosia commonly used as annual ornamentals are C. cristata (cockscomb), with a crested inflorescence, and C. plumosa, with fluffy, plume-like inflorescences.

C. spicata branches with many strong stems to form a bushy but open, upright plant up to 2 feet wide and 3 or more feet tall. The alternate, medium to dark-green leaves may be mottled or tinged with burgundy. The 2-6 inch long leaves are smooth and entire, oval or lance-shaped, and strongly veined.

Beginning in mid-summer, abundant erect cylindrical inflorescences are produced on the branch tips above the foliage. The terminal spikes may be red, pink, purple or bi-colored and often develop a metallic silver sheen on the calyxes that remain after the flowers fade. The hundreds of small flowers densely packed within each spike bloom from the bottom up and the spike continues to elongate as additional flowers open up along the spike so that early flower spikes can be many inches long by time the frost arrives. Blooming continues until frost, but the plants are sturdy enough that they can remain upright and attractive through late fall.

Cylindrical inflorescences are held above the foliage (L) and bloom from the bottom up (LC), with densely packed flowers (C and RC) often becoming very long (R) by the end of the season.

The flowers are visited by bees, wasps, butterflies, and occasionally hummingbirds. After the flowers fade, small, shiny black seeds are produced in the stiff pink to white or beige calyx that remains attractive even after the flowers are gone, so can be used as fresh or dried cut flowers (especially spikes 2-3” long; longer spikes often do not hold up as well). Celosia is easily dried by hanging small bundles of flower stems upside down in a cool, dry room with good ventilation. The seeds will fall out as they dry. These plants will self-seed readily, and although the seedlings are easy to remove, it can become a weed as they set seed prolifically.

Wheat celosia offers vertical interest in annual gardens.

Use wheat celosia in annual or mixed beds and borders for vertical interest and contrast with mounded forms. It can be used in masses for a blast of color, or in mixed containers as the “thriller” component.

Wheat celosia does best in full sun.

Grow celosia in full sun in moist, but well-drained soil. Pinching when young will promote more compact and bushy plants with more flowers. Taller plants or those in windy areas may need staking, but the flower spikes on plants that do tilt or fall over will turn to face upwards. These plants have few pest problems and are not favored by deer, but may develop powdery mildew.

Celosias are propagated only from seed. Although they can be directly sown in the grown after the last frost, plants started indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last date of frost will be larger and have more flower spikes. Seeds must be covered and the soil should be warm for germination in 2-3 weeks. Transplant carefully as they do not like to be disturbed.

There are many cultivars and hybrids with C. spicata as one parent available, including:

Cultivars of Celosia spicata: ‘Ruby Parfait’ (L), ‘Cramer’s Amazon’ (LC), ‘Flamingo Feather Pink’ (C), ‘Glowing Spears’ (RC), and ‘Pink Candle’ (R).

 

  • ‘Cramers Amazon’ – has deep purple-pink flowers that fade to pink.
  • ‘Flamingo Feather’ series – has rose pink or purple flowers that fade to white or silver at the base on 2-2½ foot tall plants. It received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2009.
  • ‘Glowing Spears’ – has intense purple-red flower spikes.
  • ‘Kosmo’ series – is a C. spicata x C. plumosa hybrid with white, pink or red spikes on very compact plants (8-10 inches tall).
  • ‘Pink Candle’ – has deep pink flowers tinged with silver.
  • ‘Punky Red’ – has darker purple red flowers.
  • ‘Ruby Parfait’ – has dark rose inflorescences on shorter plants (24” tall).

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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28 comments

  1. I was familiar with cock’s comb, but didn’t have any success growing it from seed in my garden some years ago. I was not familiar with celosia spicata. It is a pretty plant and would definitely be beneficial to many insects in the area.

  2. I was familiar with cockscomb but I did not know there were so many more options within the celosia family. I especially like the tall spike variety. It adds the possibility of another dimension in the flower bed.

  3. Just planted a celosia spicata this year which piqued my interest in this article. Glad to see I picked a self seeding plant and what to watch out for.

  4. This plant would make for a nice shock of color in my garden, and also a nice addition mixed in with a salad! Read for edu credit.

  5. I wonder if I will be able to see all of the different species of plants that can be eaten. Sad to say but this is actually the first time I saw this plant. Glad there is a site like this one.

  6. Seems like a lot of plants have to have full sun and moist conditions. I have already run out of those conditions in my gardens.

  7. It is interesting to know this beautiful flower in some areas are “salad” to some people. Always liked the appearance of the long spire blooms of plants like this and cockscomb.

  8. Didn’t know it was edible! And deer don’t seem to like it, as I’ve had it in my planters before without any problems!! Beautiful colors, what’s not to like!?

  9. I discovered celosias many years ago but did not realize there were so many varieties. I’m wondering if they have always been around or if they have been developed over the years. Celosia has many good qualities.

  10. I am always interested in plants that are attractive and edible. I will plant celosia in spring and look forward to eating the foliage.

  11. Interesting to learn how they self seed. I have never tried to dry them and harvest the seed, but with this information, I think it would be doable.

  12. Great to find another plant the deer prefer not to eat! Will try these next year.

  13. Interesting article on various forms of celosia. So many different shapes and colors. I think I will look for seeds for next spring.

  14. I always loved celosias when I was little and was thinking I needed to plant some next year. I was glad to find an explanation of different types.

  15. I’m happy to hear it attracts bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds, as I am a proponent of all of these. (Maybe not the wasps)

  16. I visited a friend’s garden where beautiful hot pink globe amaranth was if full bloom. I assume this is of the same family and also edible. I hope to get seed to try in my garden next year.

  17. Celosia in the garden gives it lots of color. I did not realize that it self seeds. I hope that I am not pulling them out in the spring. I will be more careful in the future.

  18. Didn’t know the foliage could be eaten with a mild spinach flavor.

  19. I’m going by to see if I can get Celosia for my flower garden for next year. I think it would a colorful addition!

  20. I live in the Waukesha area and have only seen the “cocks comb” plumosa annuals at garden centers. Where can I find the spicata varieties? Would love to plant this variety as a vertical interest in my beds.

  21. I now know that the “cocks comb” common term is part of this family. Favorite of mine especially for the bright scarlet color.

  22. I love celosia. I get the plumosa because that is what is readily available at the garden centers. I love the vibrant colors. This article was mainly about the spicata but I’m wondering if I can gather the seeds from the plumosa and start my own plants next year.

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