Amaranthus can make a stately backdrop

They are drought tolerant and quite strong in nature.

Red amaranthus add much color to the autumn garden.<br/><br/>
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun
We are part of The Trust Project.

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. 

Amaranthus is one of those unique plants that grab 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 celosia plants, they exhibit many similar characteristics. 

Amaranthus prefers a sunny location with well-drained soils. They are drought tolerant and 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.

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 coloring and 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 celosia or ones that hang from the plant like dreadlocks. 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.

John Zvirovski.jpg
John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

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.


Another unique character of amaranthus are the varieties that form seed heads which give that "deadlock" 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 down 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 complement when planted together in the garden.

Picking out the tree can be a cumbersome task, but with the proper planning, you can become a pro in no time while making it fun.

Hot Biscuit is a variety that has semi-drooping orange-brown seed heads on four-foot plants.  The leaves are a bright green color and really set off the seeds in contrast. 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 its 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 and used as a grain or ground and used as flour that is high in protein and is also gluten free. The seed and oil 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. 

In this week's Fielding Questions, Don Kinzler offers advice for caring for a weeping fig, tips for thinning apples, and tells readers it's not too late to wrap trees to prevent sunscald damage.

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, amaranthus would be an excellent choice!

What to read next
Food columnist Sarah Nasello will give away a dozen Italian Butter Sweets next week as part of her weekly SarahBakes Holiday Giveaway.
After a particularly stressful concert, columnist Jessie Veeder was reminded of the joy that comes with singing for oneself.
InForum history columnist Curt Eriksmoen continues the story of Ralph Engelstad, the namesake for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks' home arena.
The Swift family thought they'd found the perfect solution to their annual gift-exchange with their new, high-tech "Secret Santa" app, until something went awry. Would Horatio wind up receiving