November 15, 2014
Several years ago if a gardener told me they had amaranth growing in their landscape I would have envisioned a weedy mess. But lately my opinion of this group of plants has changed. My first approval of growing amaranth in the landscape was the variety called Summer Poinsettia, which has foliage colors that actually light up the garden. Color combinations range from green with creamy white to brilliant burgundy with red-orange shades. These plants will reach about two feet or more high. So expanding my horizons I’ve learned that amaranth is considered an ancient grain, and the seeds have been harvested through the ages and ground into flour. So it’s fitting that we are now using amaranth as part of the edible landscape. This unique and striking variety is called Elephant Head, and is an heirloom brought to this country from Germany in the 1880s. The huge reddish-purple flower heads can take on the appearance resembling its namesake. Hopi Red Dye amaranth produces the reddest plants, and was traditionally used to make dye by the southwestern Hopi Indian Nation. These plants grow up to 6 foot tall and should be staked to make quite the statement in the garden. A very pretty amaranth that has good autumnal color is Golden giant. The flower heads are a bright golden-orange color and each plant can produce up to one pound of seed. Congo amaranth is a variety that originates in west Africa and has a beautiful light green flower head. While the older foliage is not edible, it is common to use the younger foliage as colorful or cooked like spinach as a great source of vitamins. I’m horticulturist Gary Bachman for Southern Gardening.