Some late blooming annual flowers are really shining this time of year. One of my favorites is amaranth. If that name sounds familiar, you're probably munching on it in the morning, as the grain is a popular breakfast cereal.
Amaranth is a large family of plants native to India, Africa and Peru. It has a wide range of uses in the garden. Not only can you eat the grain, the young leaves make a tasty spinach substitute used to make callaloo in the Caribbean.
You also may be cursing this plant as you pull out the red-rooted pigweed in your annual gardens. That's an amaranth, too! We eat young pigweed mixed with other wild and cultivated greens in salads. It’s highly nutritious and tasty.
But come September, ornamental amaranth really blossoms. The 2- to 5-foot-tall colorful, weeping plant is also known as Love Lies Bleeding for its corn row-like red flowers. But there's quite a range of colors available. Red Garnet, Hot Biscuits, Emerald Tassels and Coral Fountains are some of the varieties that make beautiful, late summer, ornamental plants with dazzling flower heads. Pygmy Torch only grows 20 inches tall and is great in containers. All of these look good in flower arrangements or dried.
Amaranth is slow to start growing in spring, but once the summer heat and humidity sets in, it takes off. Amend the soil with compost and keep plants well watered. Enjoy the mature flower and seed heads in summer and fall. Once the flowers fade, harvest them for drying. Amaranth self sows readily so be prepared to weed out seedling next spring.