Brain cactus in skull

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Cockscomb

Did you know? In the Victorian language of flowers, Celosias symbolized humor, warmth, and silliness.

Cockscomb flowers are also known as Wool Flowers or Brain Celosia, suggestive of a highly colored brain. The flowers belong to the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae. Cockscomb blooms with a compacted crested head 2-5 inches across, on leafy stems that are 12-28 inches long. The flower’s name is suggestive of a rooster’s comb. The Cockscomb flower blooms from late summer through late fall. The Celosia plant is an annual dicotyledon.

Kingdom Plantae Division Magnoliophyta Class Magnoliopsida Order Caryophyllales Family Amaranthaceae

Celosia species include Celosia argentea and Celosia spicata. Cockscombs are the crested variety (Celosia cristata). The flowers come in attractive red leafed varieties as well. Although there are many dwarf cultivars available today, the original types were fairly tall plants. Three forms were introduced into England from Asia in 1570.

Cockscomb Facts

  • The exact origins of Cockscomb in the wild are unknown, though some assign the geographical origins to the dry slopes of Africa and India as well as the dry rocky regions of both North and South America.
  • Celosia comes from the Greek word ‘kelos’, meaning burned; apparently referring to the look of the brightly colored flowers in some species.
  • There are about 60 species of annual or perennial Celosia.
  • The contorted floral heads of the crested types of Cockscomb continue to enlarge throughout the growing season and often have colorful foliage as a complement.
  • Standing on long stiff stems, Cockscomb makes excellent fresh as well as a dried cut flowers.
  • In China the flower is called chi kuan, where it is extensively cultivated.
  • Celosia cristata are widely believed to have developed from Celosia argentea, which is listed as native to India but is common in the wilds in China.
  • Cockscomb flowers are seen in vibrant yellows, pinks, reds and gold colors.
  • Cockscomb has no fragrance.
  • The Cockscomb flower has 5-14 days of vase life.
  • Cockscomb flowers are said to resemble rooster combs or convoluted brains, Celosia argentea (Cristata group)
  • In West Africa, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia, Celosia argentea is grown as a leaf vegetable and cereal crop. In southern Nigeria, it is the most important leaf vegetable and is known as soko.
  • Celosia cristata is a common garden ornamental plant in China and other places.

Growing Celosia

  • Plant seedlings 8 inches apart in full sun and well-drained soil.
  • Plant seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your region’s last frost, then plant outdoors 8 inches apart.
  • Keep the soil moist. Cockscomb does best in hot, slightly dry conditions, but will wilt if overly dry. Avoid wetting the flowers or leaves to prevent fungal diseases.
  • Fertilize every four weeks or so. Cockscomb benefits from regular fertilizing.
  • Pull out and discard in fall, once frost kills these plants.

Celosia Plant Care

  • Cockscombs are easy to grow from seed, either indoors under lights or outdoors in the garden.
  • Space plants 8-12 inches apart depending on the expected height of the variety you are planting.
  • Cockscombs grow best when mulched.
  • Spray the foliage of flowering annuals with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer to give them a hot weather energy boost.
  • When the plants die with the first hard frost, remove them to the compost pile but keep the beds mulched right through the winter, ready for next year’s plants.

Osage orange looks a bit like a green brain

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Just in time for Halloween…something spooky: it’s a brain!

I showed this picture to someone who remarked that it might be MY brain…and that, after all, a botanist’s brain SHOULD be green. That may be true, but now I’m sort of hoping that my brain is a couple sizes larger than this thing.

Osage orange, Maclura pomifera, is what is botanically known as a “multiple” fruit. It’s the result of many, many tiny female flowers jammed together into a cluster. After pollination, the flowers swell, and as their ovaries grow, all of them coalesce into this massive structure, which can sometimes be the size of a large orange, or even a grapefruit.

Each of the tiny ovaries inside produces a single seed. The fresh, ripened fruit is quite solid, usually an attractive yellow color, and filled with plenty of sticky, white latex. Don’t even think about eating one of these things! On the other hand, squirrels seem to have no difficulty in chewing through the pulp. Although we humans find it inedible, it comes from a plant that is related to the very edible breadfruit of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame.

There has been some thought that the fresh fruits, scattered under your kitchen sink, will keep all the roaches out of your house. Yet another urban myth: I tried it once.

Our Mystery Plant is a deciduous member of the mulberry family. It is native, historically, to the central US, from Missouri and Kansas to Texas. It has been spread far from its native range, however, and can be found in cultivation just about anywhere.

Individual plants are either male or female, and of course, it is only the female plants that will produce the fruits. This species is potentially a large tree, although it is more commonly a shrub. Large trees form dark gray or reddish, plated bark. The wood is quite hard and durable, and is prominently orange-red. It has handsome, dark green leaves on smooth stems.

The tissues of the stem and leaves will drip white latex (as will the fruit) if damaged. The stems are murderously armed with stout spines, and indeed, this plant is not going to work for a tree-house. In fact, it has enjoyed great popularity in the olden days as a natural kind of barbed-wire.

This species was used commonly as a hedge, through which no horse, bull or pig would attempt crossing, due to the stickers. It also makes a fine windbreak. The plants themselves are nearly indestructible.

This species is sometimes referred to as “bow-dock,” which is a curious name. It turns out that Native Americans, and especially of the Osage tribe, were apparently fond of using the wood from this plant to fashion their bows.

In fact, a bow made from this species was the best available, strong and durable. (And, modern-day bowers prize this as a natural wood source for their craft.) Now, the French term for a bow made of wood is of course, “bois d’arc,” and the rest is pronunciational history.

John Nelson is the curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia SC 29208. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or call 803-777-8196, or email [email protected]

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