Cockscomb plants (Celosia cristata) are named for the striking resemblance of their blossoms to a rooster’s comb. Their large, flat flower heads form a curving crest with a ruffled edge and are usually bright red. The plants are perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones 10 through 12 and develop as annuals elsewhere. Cockscomb is a portion of the Amaranth or Celosia family, and several other plants in that family have growth patterns much like cockscomb’s patterns.
Some plants in the Celosia genus, called the “Plumosa” assortment (Celosia plumosa), produce fluffy, colorful flower heads that resemble feathery plumes. Their plumes actually are composed of hundreds of tiny flowers which are rather like those on cockscomb, but they’re grouped tightly together slim, erect stems. Grown as sun-loving annuals, they include flowers throughout summer and don’t require deadheading. Depending on the cultivar, the plants reach a mature height of 24 to 40 inches. Varieties include “Forest Fire Improved,” which has fiery orange to scarlet plumes along with bronze-red leaves, “Golden Triumph,” with deep-yellow plumes, and “Sparkler Mix,” a band that has particularly stiff yellow, orange or red plumes. These plants are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11 and are grown as annuals in colder areas.
Another plant linked to cockscomb is the wheat-type celosia (Celosia spicata), also called spiked cockscomb. Varieties of the plant produce narrow, spike-shaped flower heads which resemble stalks of wheat. They generally are tall plants, reaching a height around 4 feet, and produce ample flower heads that provide the plants a shrublike look. They are perennial plants in USDA zones 10 and 11 and annuals in cooler zones. Varieties include “Flamingo Feather,” which features burgundy, pink and white flower heads, “Tassles Deep Rose,” with pink to purple flowers, along with “Flamingo Purple,” which has purple flowers which are considered excellent to be used as dried flowers. A dwarf variety called “Kosmo Purple Red” is just 12 inches tall, has green and purple leaves and creates narrow, red flower heads which mature to resemble tiny cockscombs.
Related to the cockscomb as a portion of the Amaranth family, the tassel flower plant (Amaranthus caudatus) is also called love-lies-bleeding due to its long, pendulous blossom heads that hang straight down and could reach a span of 2 feet. Made up of hundreds of tiny flowers that lack petals, the flower stalks are bright red, quite unusual in shape and maintain their colour well when dried. The plant is tough, drought-tolerant and acceptable for USDA zones 2 through 11. A bonus is that it creates edible seeds in the end of the growing season.
The globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is just another amaranth-type relative to the cockscomb. Like cockscomb, its flowers are actually flower heads composed of many tiny flowers. In its case, nevertheless, extremely small and colorful bracts surround each of the miniature, petal-less flowers to make up around, or globular, flower heads. A simple plant to develop, globe amaranth reaches a mature height of 1 to 2 feet and generally is increased as a sun-loving annual in boundaries or flowerbeds. Its flower heads are deep pink to magenta, though plants bearing lighter pink or even white flowers may arise from a planting of mixed seeds. Globe amaranth flowers are attractive to butterflies and keep their colour well when dehydrated. The plants are acceptable for growing in USDA zones 2 through 11.