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A colorful ornamental plant

A weed is just a plant out of place – the ornamental side of amaranth

By Ralph E. Mitchell

A colorful ornamental plant

Amaranthus tricolor – almost poinsettia-like

When is a plant a weed?  A plant is a weed when we feel it is out of place.  In some instances, a plant can be a weed as well as a colorful ornamental, a valued grain plant and a leafy spinach substitute.  Amaranth is all of these and more!  In this article, we will discover the ornamental side of Amaranth in terms of it as an annual flower.

I have always known the Amaranth as a garden weed that pops up from time to time – also known by the name “pigweed”.  Certain types of Amaranth are also superior as a tropical summer spinach substitute – I have them growing in my garden right now.  But, I had always seen the ornamental version in seed catalogs and on seed racks, but never took the plunge until this year.  And it is not the actual flowers that make the show – at least in the ornamental type I grew, but the leaves, especially their top leaves, almost like the bracts of a poinsettia.  The type is Amaranthus tricolor also known as Joseph’s Coat or  Summer Poinsettia – some types do remind you of a real poinsettia.  As a general description, Joseph’s Coat has a three-color mixture of green, yellow and red leaves.  Some I have seen in pictures have pure yellow or red heads which are equally stunning in the landscape.  Available cultivars include ‘Early Splendor,’ ‘Flaming Fountain,’ ‘Molten Fire,’ ‘Perfecta,’ ‘Splendens,’ and ‘Tricolor’.  Some of these varieties can get up to four feet tall, so staking may be necessary.

There is at least one other ornamental Amaranth that has attractive flowers in place of the colorful leaves .  The variety ‘Love Lies Bleeding’, a different species known as Amaranthus caudatus, sports long trailing red, cattail-like blooms that dangle and cascade from the top and top-most side of the plant.   There are also dwarf varieties such as ‘Green Thumb’ and ‘Pigmy Touch’ that are by nature more compact and sprout their dense flower spikes in an upright fashion.

Best grown in full sun for excellent color, Amaranthus benefits from less fertilizer than most annuals as too rich a soil will result in less intense leaf color.  You can direct seed them where they are to bloom, or start transplants and plug them in as and where needed.

This year I am growing plain, old ‘Tricolor’ which is beautiful in its own right.  Next year I want to try ‘Early Splendor,’ and ‘ ‘Molten Fire’ – all red poinsettia-like plants, and one called ‘Aurora’, a majestic yellow variety.  There is also a full-yellow ‘Tricolor’ type also on my “to grow” list.  The annual color that these plants bring can increase your plant palette and add interest to any bedding plant display!  For more information on all types of annual ornamentals suitable for our area, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/.   Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Howe, T. (2014) Amaranthus tricolor Joseph’s Coat Amaranth, Fountain Plant.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Vanorio,  A. (2020) Growing Amaranth: The Complete Guide to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Amaranth.  https://morningchores.com/growing-amaranth/
(2020) Plant of the Week: Amaranthus tricolor Joseph’s Coat, Summer Poinsettia. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

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