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Beautiful colors come with Amaranthus

Red amaranthus blooms from July through frost, increasing in size throughout the season. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Whenever we select a plant for the yard, whether it is a vegetable, an annual, a perennial, a shrub or a tree, we always choose them because of some unique characteristic. Maybe it is the flower that grabs our attention, the texture of the foliage, the color of the leaves or a different growth habit that is exhibited by no other plant in our collection. Many different reasons could exist in choosing a new product for the yard.  

The Amaranthus is one of those unique plants that grabs our attention for many reasons. It grows in various sizes, its leaves come in various colors, its  seed or flower heads are always amazing in character and it is even edible. Closely related to the celosia plants, they exhibit many similar characteristics.  

Amaranthus prefers a sunny location with well-drained soils. They are drought tolerant and are quite strong in nature making them very resistant to wind damage.

Some of the varieties are known as the summer poinsettia, as their ends terminate in the formation of leaf bracts of various colors. The Early Splendor, with its burgundy leaves, terminates its ends with vivid red bract flowers and can reach 42 inches in height. The stunning colors of the Joseph’s Coat variety will exhibit yellow and red in its bracts, resembling a blazing star formation when viewed from the top. The leaves are dark green with chocolate colorings and are around 2 feet in height. Aurora will create a flower bract of creamy yellow on the top of the bright green leaves that reach only 1 to 2 feet tall.  

Other varieties are more known for their flower heads that resemble the celosia or ones that hang from the plant like dreadlocks. The Red and Green Torch varieties develop erect seed heads on the tops that will last for months in the garden without fading. It isn’t a true flower, but a brilliant head, consisting of thousands of tiny fuzz-covered seeds.

The Red and Purple Amaranth create huge seed heads atop sturdy stems that are noticeable from a distance. Their stems can be as large as a small tree at the base and their roots will anchor them into the ground to withstand any North Dakota wind, which is always a bonus.

Another unique character of the Amaranthus are the varieties that form seed heads which give that “dreadlock” look. Love Lies Bleeding is a beautiful example of this style. The plants will reach up to 5 feet tall and from it will hang numerous seed heads that flow downward from the plant reaching 2 to 3 feet long. They gracefully dance in the wind and keep their rich colors for many, many weeks. Green Tail Amaranthus is another wonderful variety that reaches 4 feet high and has draping yellow/green seed heads. They are a terrific compliment when planted together in the garden.  

Hot Biscuit is a variety that has semi-drooping orange-brown seed heads on 4-foot plants.  The leaves are a bright green color and really set off the seeds in contrast. I have never tried this one myself, but am thinking it lies in my future of annuals.  

Prince’s Feather is a variety that has a character all its own. It can grow up to 12 feet in height. It has large green lance-shaped leaves that are spread out about a foot apart on a very sturdy stem. The ends will terminate in numerous brilliant pink flower heads that are about 3 inches long. Many branches will form to create a mass of color on all the tops. Strong winds do not seem to affect this variety either.  

Not only is this annual unique for it wonderful foliage colors and large seed heads, it has many other uses. The large seed heads can be used in dried floral arrangements. They can be left on the plants in the wintertime to create a food source for many birds. The leaves can be harvested and boiled and eaten like spinach.  

The leaves and stems are rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C and riboflavin. They are also a good source of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

The seeds can be harvested, used as a grain or ground and as a flour that is high in protein and is also gluten free. The seed and the oil produced from the seed may be beneficial in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.  

The roots themselves can be dug up and used as a vegetable in stews and soups. It is also good cooked with tomatoes and has a white color that is somewhat starchy like a carrot.  

The Hopi Indians use to use the red leaves and seed heads to produce a source of deep red dye. You will find this dye in many products listed as Red No. 2.

Whether you choose to grow this annual for its many nutritional aspects or plant it for its beautiful landscape features, it is a choice that creates stunning results. As with many large plants, you must have the room available for its stately habits with most varieties, but it sure adds some great character to the backgrounds of your gardens. If you are looking for a sturdy background plant with great colors and texture, the Amaranthus would be an excellent choice!