Plant Collector: Amaranthus caudatus

Amaranthus caudatus - Love Lies Bleeding

Amaranthus caudatus – Love Lies Bleeding

There is nothing fancy or special about this amaranthus which bears the unfortunate common name of Love Lies Bleeding. It is just an annual which has seeded down over many years in our rockery, but in early autumn we welcome its return. It grows at a remarkable speed. Throughout most of summer, the tiny seedlings are only a few centimetres tall, taking up next to no space at all. Look away for a couple of weeks and suddenly they have rocketed up to a metre or more and produced these eye-catching red tassels which will last right through autumn. The advantage in our garden situation is that the plants still take up very little ground space so the bulbs that are shooting away in the same pockets of the rockery are not crowded out.

There are many different amaranthus species – maybe 70 of them. Some species are eaten as fresh greens, some are predominantly grown as ornamentals while some provided grain in their native habitats of Mexico and South America. There is some resurgence of interest in amaranth grain, including from alternative lifestylers. It appears that A. cruentus is the main grain species but our A. caudatus also gives edible grain and so does the oddly named A. hypochondriacus. The problem we see in using our Love Lies Bleeding is that, while it sets prodigious amounts of seed, it does not all ripen at once, which would make harvesting difficult. However, should armageddon come, we do apparently have a potential source of grain in our front garden, as long as I leave one or two plants to seed down each year in the interim. In the meantime, they do a great job of feeding the birds.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.