1009 Amaranthus caudatusCommon Names: love-lies-bleeding, tassle flower, Inca wheat, velvet flower, amaranth Family: Amaranthaceae (amaranth Family)
Tassel flower (the garden ornamental) presents a striking image in bloom: a pale green bush festooned with brilliant purplish crimson flowers dangling in tassels up to 2 ft (60 cm) long, some reaching all the way to the ground. Nothing looks quite like it. Tassel flower is usually an annual, but it can be a short lived perennial, living a few seasons if there is no frost. The bush gets 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) tall and 18-30 in (45-75 cm) wide. Love-lies-bleeding, with its bright crimson tassels, is probably the most common cultivar in American gardens. Amaranth (same species but grown for food) is similar but not as showy.
Amaranthus caudatus has a distribution that includes Africa, India and South America, but was probably originally from the Andes of South America.
CultureLight: Tassel flower does best in full sun. Moisture: Tassel flower likes a fairly dry, nutrient poor soil; it tends to be less colorful in rich, fertile soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Tassel flower is typically an annual; give yours an indoor head start in climates with short growing seasons. Propagation: Tassel flower, and indeed, most of the Amaranthus species grow readily from seed; some might say too readily.
Grow tassel flower in the middle of a bed or at an intersection of garden paths. It grows fast and makes a rather large bush, so give it enough room to show off its remarkable flowers come summer and autumn. A single plant makes a fine specimen. The long tassels will last for weeks as cut flowers, too.
Sometimes called Inca wheat, Amaranthus caudatus was a staple grain for the Incas and Aztecs, nearly as important in their diets and as widespread in Tropical America as was maize (corn). The cereal-like grain (about the size of a poppy seed) is high in protein, and high in lysine, an amino acid usually deficient in vegetables. In fact, amaranth seeds are extremely nutritious, with more protein than most cereals and a better balance of amino acids for the human diet than any other plant. The species is still cultivated in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, and now in India for its young leaves and seeds. Amaranth is increasingly available in U.S. supermarkets where health conscious consumers value its nutritious good taste.
There are some 60 species of Amaranthus, worldwide. Many are weedy, growing in old fields and waste places, and some are invasive pests. Pigweed (A. hybridus and other species) is a well known weed in American gardens and lawns. Several species are grown as ornamentals for their colorful leaves and/or flowerheads. Some species (including A. caudatus) are grown for food: the tender young leaves are eaten raw in salads, or cooked like spinach, and the seeds are eaten raw or milled into flour. In South America, food coloring for breads and maize dishes is made from the brightly colored leaves of some species.
Before Cortez put a stop to everything they did, the Aztecs baked ceremonial snake shaped cookies from milled amaranth seeds, honey and human blood. Ummmm good.
Steve Christman 2/27/06