Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants. It is also known as love-lies-bleeding because of its blood-red flowers. In fact, there are approximately 60 species that are recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to green or gold.
In its natural conditions, it can grow from two to seven feet tall. When it blooms, it boasts hanging tassels of bright red composed of very small blooms that are striking and look a bit like velvet dreadlocks.
These plants are almost never sold as houseplants, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be grown indoors—their cultural conditions are not demanding, and if you can bring it to flower in the late summer or early autumn, the plant will reward you with showy blooms. You’re likely to see them in the outdoor section of the garden center. Amaranth can also be successfully overwintered, but it’s best to start a new crop from seed or cuttings. Fortunately, they produce prolifically from seed and root relatively easily from cuttings. You can tell an older plant by its leaves and stems: both will turn bronze-red with age.
Propagation – Amaranth propagates easily from seed, which should be sown into seed-starting soil in early spring. Alternatively, take stem cuttings in the early spring. Rooting hormone will greatly increase your chances of success. Place the young cuttings in a small pot and rest in a warm, bright place until new growth emerges. However, if you are growing Amaranth by seed indoors feel free to start any time of year.
Container – Being a weed in its natural environment, just about any container will do. However, depending on the variety you choose to grow, be sure that the container has good drainage and will be able to support the full-grown amaranth plant/s. You can start out with a relatively small container, but you may have to transplant to a larger pot along the way.
Older plants should be repotted every year or two, depending on their overall condition. When repotting, it can also help to trim the plant back and move it up only one plant size. Older plants sometimes need to be staked up to keep the long branches orderly.
Soil – Plants grown in average garden soil will be four-feet to six-feet tall, while those grown in rich soil or compost may reach over eight feet. Optimum soil is a well-drained loam but both plants will do well in all but poorly aerated clay soils. A rich, peat-based potting soil with excellent drainage is beneficial.
Watering – Amaranth plants are not too picky about water and can survive both low water conditions and periods of heavy watering. As a general practice, it’s best to provide them with even moisture and good drainage, though, to prevent root rot.
Fertilizer – Amaranth is responsive to nitrogen and phosphorous. Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. Cut fertilizer back to once a month or so in the winter.
Light Requirements – They are not particular about light requirements and can grow in conditions ranging from full sun to light shade. However, they bloom better with more sunlight.
Extra Growing Tips – Indoors Amaranth can be used as wonderful hanging plants. They tend to be forgiving plants, but root rot can be deadly, so make sure your pot has adequate drainage. They are also susceptible to a variety of leaf fungal disorders, so be careful not to provide too much humidity or over mist the leaves (although occasional misting might be a good idea if you’ve in a very arid area). Amaranth plants are also susceptible to mealy bugs, aphids, and mites. Signs of infestation include tiny webs on plants, clumps of white "powdery" residue, or visible insects on the plant. Treat infestations as soon as possible to prevent them from spreading to the rest of your collection. As always, start with the least toxic treatment option first, only progressing to more serious chemicals if your initial efforts fail.
Varieties – There are dozens of varieties, but the nursery trade most commonly offers these four:
Hot Biscuits - Amaranthus cruentus – Fast-growing, 4-5 foot tall plants produce gorgeous, 2 foot cinnamon-orange. plumes over a long summer and fall season. An outstanding cut flower, Hot Biscuits adds spice to autumn bouquets. Easy to grow.
Opopeo – Amaranthus hybridus – Showy spikes of rich red flowers for cutting or garden color. Dramatic bronze foliage on tall, 6-6.5 foot plants. Named for the city in Mexico where this plant originated.
Love Lies Bleeding – Amaranthus caudatus – This stunning accent plant is ideal for beds, borders or containers; growing 3-5 feet tall and producing rope like bright red tassels over a long summer and fall season. The flowers are excellent for cutting or drying and the foliage is edible and highly nutritious.
Where to Get Amaranth Seeds By Mail…
Amaranth has a long magical history. It was used in the ancient rituals of Central and South America as part of an offering. The Aztecs saw it as the most sacred grain, sacred even above corn. Zuni legends suggest that this plant was brought over from the otherworld. Wreaths made of Amaranth flowers are said to have healing properties. The plant is also said to aid in spirits the crossing to the otherworld.
A crown of amaranth flowers worn on the head speeds healing.
To make sure that you are never struck by a bullet, pull up a whole amaranth plant (including roots) preferably on a Friday during the Full Moon. Leave an offering to the plant and then fold it, roots and all, in a piece of white cloth. Wear this against your breast and you’ll be ‘bullet-proof.’ I imagine you’d have to use one of the smaller, ornamental varieties for this.
The dried amaranth flowers have been used to call forth the dead.
Amaranth is used in spells to repair a broken heart.
It is also associated with immortality, and is used to decorate images of gods and goddesses as well as in Pagan funeral ceremonies.
Amaranth is sacred to Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec Sun God and is a suitable offering to Artemis and Demeter.