When to plant cosmos?

Caring for Your Cosmos Over the Winter

Cosmos are wonderful, beautiful and fairly easy to take care of. This warm weather annual is naturally found in Mexico and South America where it has plenty of sunshine. That said, these flowers need special care during the winter months.

“Cosmos” comes from the Greek word meaning “harmony”, which describes this plant quite well. The easiest way to deal with cosmos in winter is to not have them in winter. As these plants are annual, the best time to plant them is right after winter, as soon as the weather starts warming up a bit and they won’t freeze but get plenty of sunshine. If you live in a place with warmer winters your cosmos would be perfectly fine growing through the winter months. If you do have Cosmos that won’t finish their yearly life cycle by winter, it’s best to bring them indoors if there is a good place for them with lots of sunshine; either real or artificial. If you can’t transplant indoors, you can cover the tuberous roots with mulch, which will help keep them warm. Deadheading your cosmos and leaving them outdoors will give them a better chance of reseeding themselves and coming back for another season or two once the frost is over.

Hopefully now you’re ready for the winter and you and your Cosmos will make it through another year.


Graham Rice discusses the genus that has been named after the Greek for ‘beautiful’.

There was a time when country house gardens grew rows of cosmos in separate colours for cutting. Then there was a decline and for some years about the only type grown was the ‘Sensation’ mixture. Now new forms and attractive single colours are again appearing in catalogues, inspired by renewed interest from commercial cut flower growers.

There are two main types of cosmos that are grown from seed, those derived from C. hipinnatus and those developed from C. sulphurous. And here the confusion starts straight away for it seems that the yellow forms of C. hipinnatus have been known in the past as C. sulphurous, a name now applied to the shorter, broader leaved types.

But rather than wade into deep taxonomic water I’ll simply stick with the names the catalogues now use.

Just to be perverse, I’ll start with the perennial Cosmos atrosanguineus which cannot be raised from seed. I say cannot be raised from seed, thirty years ago seed was available and there are occasionally reports that plants have set seed but I’ve never seen seed or seen it listed. The demand for this very popular plant is now satisfied by plants multiplied by micropropagation.

The flowers, in colour and scent much like plain (rather than milk) chocolate, set this plant apart. It reaches about 2ft (60cm) with dark stems and narrow leaves and has small tuberous roots. It looks stunning in a mass, but you’ll have to take cuttings from young shoots to build up stock.

In the 1950s, Cosmos diversifolius was listed in catalogues but I’ve never seen or grown it. To put it simply, it’s a lilac or rose pink version of C. atrosanguineus. I wonder if it’s still in cultivation. If it is, some seed would be much appreciated.

The familiar annual Cosmos hipinnatus is a tall plant, sometimes reaching 5ft (1.5m) in height but generally a little shorter, depending on the variety. The foliage is bipinnate, that is to say it is first divided into opposite segments and then these too are divided in the same way. As the individual segments are themselves very long and narrow the resulting effect is very lacy and delicate.

The freshly coloured, lacy foliage of established plants not only sets off the flowers well but makes a good background for other annuals. The flowers are carried on single stems or sometimes in open heads. In most varieties the stems are long enough for cutting.

The flowers come in three forms. Most varieties have single flowers with eight sterile petals or ray florets and a broad yellow disk of fertile florets. Some have a few shorter petals around the disk and one has tubular petals. There are yet no fully double varieties as there are of annual chrysanthemums for example. There is now a Double-Semi Double strain called Cosmos ‘Double Click’ in a wide range of colours and look spectacular in borders.

The Japanese in particular are putting a lot of work into breeding new cosmos for cut flowers and in the future years we can look forward to some really good new varieties.

‘Butterkist’, ‘Lemon Cream’, and ‘Yellow Garden’ are alternative names for a recently introduced variety from Japan that is different from most in two ways. First of all the 2-3in (5-7.5cm) flowers are yellow with a pale ring around the disk. Secondly, like many of the older varieties they are very late flowering. Sown in spring they will not flower until September when the plants have become very tall. Sown in June or July their flowering time is unchanged as it’s controlled by day length but the plants are shorter and more manageable.

‘Candy Stripe’ is a very distinctive variety reaching about 3ft (90cm) with the white petals edged in crimson. This is a very striking variety with the amount of crimson intentionally varying from a very attractive fine picotee edging to more lurid combinations featuring rather too much crimson. There are some with no white at all. This is difficult to place in the garden and selection for the picotee edged type would be worthwhile – but special forms of cosmos are notoriously difficult to keep stable.

‘Gloria’ has especially large flowers, up to about 4in (10cm), in pale pink with a dark central stripe in each petal. The stems are a little longer than usual making this a good variety for cutting.

An almost double variety is ‘Psyche’ which has a frilly ring of half-length petals around the eye. It comes in a mixture of various pinks and white and although it’s rather variable it makes an interesting cut flower.

‘Purity’ is a stunning pure white and one of the best. Reaching 4ft (1.2m) in height the 3in (7.5cm) flowers are slightly ruffled and slightly toothed at the tips. The foliage is pale green and sets off the flowers well.

In its earlier days ‘Sea Shells’ was a very variable variety. It’s unique in that the eight petals of each flower are tubular instead of flat so that the colour on the back of the petals (on the outside of the tube) is more prominent than that on the ‘front’ (inside the tube). The effect is probably less showy than varieties like ‘Sensation’ but a great deal more stylish.

In early selections half the flowers would be in the usual flat petalled form and the effect would be destroyed. Now the variety has been improved so they are 100% ‘sea shells’ and in various pinks and white. The plants are about 3ft (90cm) in height.

‘Sensation’, sometimes known as ‘Early Sensation’, is the one you find in most catalogues. Strains differ so you can’t be sure exactly what you’re going to get until you grow it; some strains have no white, deep red is usually missing but you can be sure of a range of pink shades. Plants are tall and bushy, sometimes over 4ft (1.2m), and need plenty of space.

One of the 1991 Fleuroselect Gold Medal winners is ‘Sonata’, a stunning dwarf white reaching only about 18in (45cm). The pure white flowers are prettily fluted, held well above the foliage and up to 4in (10cm) across making a very impressive plant. This is the first of a new generation of dwarf types, other colours and mixtures are on the way. Older dwarf types do not seem to be available at present.

“Trianon’ is a bright crimson ‘Sensation’ type with large single flowers on tall bushy plants and is the darkest available in separate colours.

‘Versailles Improved’ is another ‘Sensation’ type with rosy lilac flowers, each with a deep crimson ring around the yellow eye.

Finally the plants which are now known as Cosmos sulphurous. These have foliage rather similar to that of a French marigold, though perhaps a little smaller, and flowers which are at best about 2in (5cm) across.

The ‘Bright Lights’ mixture varies in height from 18-30in (45-90cm) making rather an uneven group. The flowers are in just three colours – deep orange, pale orange and a slightly orangey yellow. The flowers are on long stems but the effect is rather sparse and tatty unless they are dead headed regularly.

More even in height is ‘Diablo’ in flame red and reaching about 2-3ft (60-90cm) while the rather shorter new ‘Ladybird’ is a very piercing, iridescent orangey red.

‘Sunny Gold’ and ‘Sunny Red’ are also more even in height at about 18in (45cm) and distinctly upright in growth with flowers on shorter stems giving a more colourful effect. The gold is actually a gold tinted yellow while the red is just the orange side of a true red. The flowers are semi-double and need regular dead heading to look their best.

So that summarises the varieties available, fortunately none is difficult to raise or grow in the garden.

The bipinnatus types are raised either as hardy or half-hardy annuals. The seeds are long, curved and easy to space sow in a peat or loam based compost in April at 60F (15C). They germinate in a couple of weeks and are best pricked out in 3in (7.5cm) pots as they grow quickly. Once established in their pots keep them cool to prevent them getting too large too quickly. Harden off and plant after the last frosts in your area. The taller types can go 18in (45cm) apart, smaller varieties 12-15 in (30-38cm) apart.

These bipinnatus types can also be sown outside where they are to flower, although the seed of ‘Sonata’ may prove too expensive for this relatively wasteful approach. Sow very thinly in May about half an inch (l-2cm) deep, thin out first to 3in (7.5cm) and then progressively to their final spacing.

‘Yellow Garden’ is best sown later, June or even July, pricked out into pots and then planted in gaps left by early plants for late flowering. It can also be sown in September or October and over-wintered in pots indoors for spring flowering.

The sulphurous types can be treated in the same way as the bipinnatus varieties but are less successful when sown outside – raising them in the greenhouse is definitely preferable and with a germination temperature of 70F (21C).

Cosmos have many uses in the garden. Unlike comparable annuals such as annual chrysanthemums, cosmos will not burn up by the end of August in a hot British summer and so although the intensity of their display may be less, they will flower until well into the autumn.

The bipinnatus types are not fussy as to soil and any reasonable conditions in full sun suits them well. The taller types may need shelter from strong winds as they make bulky plants and can be blown over; alternatively they can be staked when approaching full size. Ensuring they don’t get parched is a help and dead heading not only improves the appearance, especially of the whites, but helps promote further flowering.

Tall varieties such as the ‘Sensation’ and ‘Sea Shells’ mixtures and especially ‘Purity’ are fine plants for the back of the annual border, for spaces in a herbaceous border and for gaps in a new mixed border.

The fact that most carry their flowers towards the top of the plant is by no means a disadvantage as the fresh, finely divided foliage is a superb background for shorter varieties.

Associate them with large leaved plants such as Ricinus ‘Impala’ or those with harmonising foliage like Eucalyptus globulus or foliage in a strongly contrasting colour like the deep red Hibiscus ‘Coppertone’. Plants with a contrasting stiff, upright habit like larkspur, especially in a colour not seen in cosmos such as ‘Imperial Blue Bell’, would also be a good choice.

‘Sonata’ is a perfect mixed border filler, its neat habit, fresh foliage and pure white flowers fitting happily into almost any good sized space although even this shorter variety has the capacity to elbow more delicate plants aside. I’m going to try it in a sea of Cynoglossum ‘Firmament’ or perhaps Echium ‘Blue Bedder’.

The sulphurous types are a little more fussy and thrive in the hottest, sunniest spots you can find. In cold, windy beds and in wet soil they are less than successful.

But in the right spot they are good plants for fiery associations with Cannas, Crocosmias, Heleniums, mahogany and sulphur Marigolds and dark leaved Beetroot.

Finally, both types make useful cut flowers although the bipinnatus types are the most frequently used. The sulphureus varieties especially ‘Diablo’ and ‘Bright Lights’ mixture are useful for small posies but ‘Sea Shells’ and ‘Yellow Garden’ are the real stars.

Cut them as the buds are opening and put them in water at once; carrying them around the garden on a hot day before giving them a drink will shorten their vase life. The tubular petals of ‘Sea Shells’ are unique in their shape and bicolour effect, but note that the white fades prettily to palest pink which might not suit your arrangement. Even the shorter types have long enough stems for cutting but I would also suggest ‘Purity’ and ‘Versailles Tetra’.

Graham Rice is a horticultural journalist and author with a particular interest in annual plants.

Source of article
Growing From Seed – Winter 1990-91 Vol. 5 Number 1
© The Seed Raising Journal from Thompson & Morgan

My 5 Favourite Self-Seeding Annuals

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 5, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Now that you’re all going to be hiding the garden spade in the spring from now on, I’ll go over some of my favourite annuals that come back faithfully every year.

Just in case you missed that article, here is a convenient link to “Spring is here, Don’t Touch That Spade!!”

Just a little recap, most annuals will self-seed and come back in the spring. This is a wondrous way to save some money. All you need to do is be patient and wait, don’t dig the beds every spring!!! You will have so many annuals you might have to give some away.

Cosmos. These dainty, many coloured annuals are wonderful when planted amongst tall perennials that stop blooming early in the year. They tend to be tall although the ones I planted in full shade maxed out at 7 inches. Some staking may be needed in windy areas. Last year I grew Cosmos sulphureus and (pictured above) for the first time and they were beautiful!! I let them go to seed in the fall, spreading them everywhere I could think of. I can’t wait to see their pretty little leaves popping up all over the gardens this spring along with my regular ones.

Nicotiana. Ahhhh…the sweet scented Nicotiana. There aren’t many annuals, if any, that can compare to the scent these guys exude in the evening. The scent, plus the fact that they are humming bird, and humming bird moth magnets, make them a must have annual every year.

Calendula. Lovely, bright flowers that stay short and compact. Great for containers and borders. Seeds sprout and bloom in as little as 7 weeks, then bloom all summer if kept dead-headed. No garden should be without them.

Portulaca. Wonderful little flowers that do an amazing job as a groundcover. You never know what colour you will get, always a beautiful surprise. They love full sun and bloom until frost. These little guys can also be used in hanging baskets and containers.

Cleome. I adore Cleome. Another tall annual, but sturdy enough to not need staking, as a rule. Butterflies love them. These guys are covered in blooms by mid-summer and branch out bushily. They come in a variety of colours. These lovers of full sun are reasonably drought tolerant and produce seeds by the thousands. Plant them once and you will enjoy them for many, many years to come.

There you have it. My favourite 5 self-seeding annuals. There are many more though that deserve an honourable mention. Stock and Balsam are nicely scented annuals. Good butterfly attractors. They occasionally come back for me but not with the guarantee that those mentioned above do. Batchelor’s Button, another pretty annual. Good for drying and as a cut flower. They need full sun or they become scraggly. Petunias also come back from seed for me and I never know what colours I will get. I move them into hanging baskets or planters and also let them grow between my perennials as a bright ground cover.

Hopefully, this article has motivated you to plant more of these amazing, returning annuals. I guarantee you will enjoy them for many years to come. Annuals deserve a higher standing in the Perennial bed than they currently get, they provide much needed colour when the Perennials are fading for the summer. Stop just lining your sidewalks with them, put them in your gardens!!!.

Photo credits for this article go to myself, melody, poppysue and Sarahskeeper.

Behold…the Cosmos! How to Grow C. Pinnatus and C. Sulphureus from Seed

October 16, 2018

When we hear the word “cosmos,” we can’t help but think of the television series about astrophysics first hosted by the late, great astrophysicist Carl Sagan, and then passed on to Neil deGrasse Tyson. In modern culture and in Latin, “cosmos” is associated with the universe, beauty, and orderliness; according to Texas A&M University’s website Aggie Horticulture, Spanish priests in Mexico named the genus and grew tons of cosmos in their mission gardens.

Cosmos are symbolic of deep love, a lifetime of companionship, and the belief that life is wondrously beautiful.

Cosmos plants, as heavenly as they may be, aren’t mysterious at all. They thrive without much attention—in fact, they do best when, aside from harvesting blooms for floral arrangements, you don’t mess with them—and they’re extremely easy to grow from seed.

Slightly off-topic: Carl Sagan called lettuce sandwiches as his “pet peeve.” We’ll forgive him; not everyone’s bright enough to add sliced tomato and bacon.

Seed Needs’ Favorite Cosmos Species

There are dozens of cosmos species, including both annuals and perennials. The annuals we’re highlighting today share the same basic environmental needs:

  • Long, deep, intermittent watering
  • 8 to 10 hours of full sun
  • Medium to compost-rich well-draining soil
  • pH 6 to 7
  • Somewhat drought tolerant but not a good prospect for xeriscapes

Additional fertilization will make them spindly, so don’t coddle your cosmos. In fact, we pretty much advise our gardeners growing cosmos from seed to plant them, keep the seeds moist until they germinate and get a few inches of growth, then slowly back away.

Of course, eye contact is encouraged. Their bright yellow centers and towering blooms make that part easy; just plant them at the far end of the garden where they won’t block smaller plants. Cosmos make excellent background ornamentals.

Cosmos are in the same family as daisies and asters (interchangeably called Asteraceae or Compositae) and have what we call composite flowers: Their central discs are a mashup of many tiny blooms, and each petal (or “ray”) is an individual flower. Cosmos have an upright, bushy growth habit, and can take up quite a bit of room.

Native to Mexico, they’ve naturalized in temperate to tropical regions of North, South, and Central America where they’re considered to be wildflowers.

We offer C. bipinnatus and C. sulphureus, for their popularity, diverse varieties, and vigor. You can select individual varieties or mixes; both species grow well together and their colors are complementary.

Cosmos bipinnatus

Sometimes (but not often) called “cut leaf cosmos” or “garden cosmos,” C. bipinnatus’s flowers may be white, pink, lavender, deep red or a rich purple. They may be bicolored or bloom in different shades and patterns.

  • Annual in zones 2 to 11
  • 1 to 4 feet tall
  • 1/2 to 2-foot spread
  • 2 to 4-inch wide heads
  • Petals are sometimes fluted; also may be double-layered
  • Blooms June through September

Cosmos sulphureus

C. sulphureus, “sulfur cosmos” or “yellow cosmos,” didn’t earn the name by wafting air biscuits. The specific name stems from the Latin word for yellow, and the flowers are shades from the same side of the color wheel: Yellow, orange, salmon, or red. As with both species, some cultivars may be bicolored or have varying shades and patterns. While it’s unknown exactly when C. sulphureus were introduced to Europe, in 1791 the botanist Cavanilles recorded his observations on plants cultivated from Mexico-sourced seeds grown in the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid or, for those who took French or just cut Spanish class, the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

  • Annual in zones 2 to 11
  • 2 to 6 feet tall
  • 1 to 3-foot spread
  • 2 to 4-inch wide flower heads
  • Oblong petals may be multi-layered
  • Blooms June through September

Both species are sometimes called “Mexican aster.”

You can most easily tell the difference between out-of-bloom C. pinnatus and C. sulphureus plants by taking a look at their medium leaf shapes. “Pinnatus” is Latin for “feathery” or “winged,” and C. pinnatus cosmos indeed have delicate, fern-like leaves resembling those of dill or fennel. C. Sulphureus foliage is similar to that of the daisy, with narrow, elongated, and lobed leaves.

Growing Annual Cosmos from Seed

Cosmos, like many wildflowers, are perfect for black-thumb gardeners. With minimal soil preparation—a little compost, a little raking to smooth things out—you can simply stick a handful of seeds on the ground and get on with your day.

Even still, you’ll want to maintain consistent moisture in your seeded area until the plants have germinated and begun to grow in earnest.

Cosmos seeds look like tiny brown bananas, which might make you think of space monkeys. Since the seeds are fairly easy to handle, you can be more intentional (or maybe strategic) in planting them by hand. This is the most economical approach (benefiting you, not us). But then again, scattering is perfectly acceptable when growing cosmos from seed. Since cosmos are prolific re-seeders, regenerating as “colonies” in subsequent years, go ahead and sow your seeds willy-nilly the first season. We’ve got college-bound kids, after all.

Pro Tip: Golfers usually carry shakers of garden sand and grass seeds—which look similar to cosmos seeds—to rejuvenate patches of turf. These “divots” are typically the result of the golfer having enjoyed too many cosmopolitans at the clubhouse the night before. Anyway…us being slightly less fancy, we like to repurpose those plastic shaker cans from cheap Parmesan cheese or, for smaller seeds, the bottle-type shakers for culinary herbs. Experiment with the seed-to-sand ratio when you’re using the seed-scattering method, and don’t go dumping out your spouse’s herb rack. Trust us.

Some gardeners will go so far as to add a little bit of colored masonry chalk to the sand to help ensure even seed distribution.

If you do broadcast cosmos, remember that these plants have a wide spread. You’ll want to go back and thin out or relocate surplus seedlings if you surface seed them too densely.

Seed Treatment: None required or even recommended, but for kicks (or practice) you can subject your cosmos seeds to cold stratification or striation if you’re starting them indoors.

When to Plant Outdoors: Scatter or sow seeds in the fall (recommended) after consistent frost patterns have kicked in, or in spring about 2 to 4 weeks prior to your last frost. Frost seeding improves seed-to-soil contact as the ice crystals manipulate the soil’s surface, and when you sow cosmos seeds in the fall, you’ll likely have earlier growth when your garden wakes up in spring. This is a popular method for graziers when they’re prepping their pastures, and why turf seed dealers recommend fall lawn seeding.

When to Plant Indoors: We highly recommend direct-sowing cosmos outdoors in zones 5b and above, since they take hold and thrive so readily once the soil’s warmed up. If you live in a short-season climate and want to get a jump on things, plant them indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost.

Seed Depth: Sow seeds 1/16 to 1/4″ deep. Don’t go deeper!

Seed Spacing: Sow, transplant, or thin 12″ to 18″ apart.

Days to Germination: 7 to 14 days at 70°F to 75°F.

Days to Maturity (Flowering): 60 to 90 days after germination.

Transplanting Tips: As with all transplants, take care not to disturb the root systems. We recommend starting your cosmos seeds in peat pots or the more ecologically sustainable CowPots. Once your seedlings have hardened off for a few days, you can place them—container and all—into their planting hole. It’s a good idea to thoroughly soak the pots, and moisten the garden soil before you do.

Maintenance: Taller cosmos plants might require staking, especially if they’re planted where they’re not protected from wind or strong breezes. Deadhead spent flowers to extend the bloom period.

Pests and Diseases: Watch out for the occasional aphid, snail, and slug flash mob. Otherwise, cosmos are disease and pest-resistant.

Choosing Plants to Share Space with Cosmos

Cosmos attract beneficial wasps, bees, and butterflies, so if you want to boost the pollination rate in your veggie garden, plant some at the back. They can draw aphids away from more delicate or valuable plants, including roses.

For aesthetics, try planting cosmos with cleome, echinacea, sunflowers, asters, or daisies. We also love to plant cosmos with carnations or the dianthus species most commonly referred to as “pinks.”

Since cosmos flowers typically bloom on the upper half of the plant, foreground plants that complement their colors and textures create stunning, eye-pleasing displays. Be sure to note the height differences between cosmos species before you map out your ornamental garden.

In areas where you can expect early blooms, try planting poppies and crocus in front of your cosmos.

Stellar Seeds from Seed Needs

Wanna be a cosmonaut? Looking through our catalog, it occurs to us that we’ve got a lot of space-themed plants. From asters to flying saucers morning glory to alien-looking passion flowers and Romanesco broccoli, we can dig our hands into the dirt while we’re dreaming of what’s above us in the sky.

Let us help you launch a successful gardening adventure with our collection of ethically-sourced, high-quality non-GMO seeds. Our seed producers harvest seeds from healthy, disease-resistant plants, and we purchase only what we expect to sell within a single season. This practice, as well as our climate-controlled storage facility here in Michigan, ensures the highest possible germination rates and your best shot at a gorgeous garden.

Want to learn more? Contact us! We’re always happy to talk shop and help answer your gardening questions. Just don’t ask us where space finally ends, because that will make our heads explode.

Cosmos Seed Harvest: Tips For Collecting Cosmos Seeds

Before the Internet and the popularity of seed catalogs, gardeners harvested their garden seeds to plant flowers and vegetables from one year to the next. Cosmos, an attractive daisy-like flower that comes in multiple colors, is among the easiest of flowers to save the seeds from. Let’s learn more about cosmos plant seeds.

Cosmos Seed Harvest Info

The only problem with collecting cosmos seeds is finding out whether your plant is a hybrid or an heirloom. Hybrid seeds won’t reproduce faithfully the traits of their parent plants and aren’t good candidates for seed saving. The cosmos plant seeds from an heirloom, on the other hand, are ideal for this project.

Tips for Collecting Cosmos Seeds

Need to know how to harvest seeds from cosmos? To begin your cosmos flower seed collection, you first need to choose which blooms you want to grow next year. Find some particularly attractive samples and tie a short piece of yarn around the stems to mark them for later.

Once the flowers begin to die back, the cosmos seed harvest can begin. Test a stem on one of your marked blooms by bending it, once the flower dies and the petals begin to fall off. If the stem snaps easily in half, it’s ready to pick. Remove all the dried flower heads and place them into a paper bag to capture loose seeds.

Remove the seeds from the pods by cracking the pods with your fingernail over a table covered in paper towels. Flick the inside of each pod to make sure you remove all the seeds. Line a cardboard box with more paper towels and pour the seeds into the box.

Place them in a warm spot where they won’t be disturbed. Shake the box once a day to move the seeds around, and allow them to dry for six weeks.

How to Save Your Cosmos Plant Seeds

Label an envelope with the date and the name of your seeds. Pour the dried cosmos seeds into the envelope and fold over the flap.

Pour 2 tablespoons of dried milk powder onto the center of a sheet of paper towel and fold the paper over the seeds to create a packet. Place the packet in the bottom of a canning jar or clean mayonnaise jar. Place the seed envelope in the jar, put on the lid, and store it until next spring. The dried milk powder will absorb any stray moisture, keeping the cosmos seeds dry and safe until spring planting.

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