Amazing Amaranths

Amazing Amaranths

Part of Ep. 1004 Winter Interest

Identify some of the more than sixty species of Amaranth with the help of Mark Dwyer of Rotary Gardens in Janesville.

Premiere date: Dec 22, 2002

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Rotary gardens in Janesville devotes several garden beds every year to experimenting with some special plant. This year, as you can see, it's Amaranth. We join landscape manager Mark Dwyer to look at the results. Mark, I had no idea there were so many choices in Amaranthus. These are incredible.

Mark:
Lots of different Amaranthus. Actually, over 60 species.

Shelley:
Wow! And you've got everything from the one I know as the old Victorian kind, Love Lies Bleeding, but what else is in the group?

Mark:
Well, I hate to admit it, but Pig Weed is a member of the Amaranth family. And that sort of casts a bad light on amaranths in general, but there are a lot of great ornamental ones.

Shelley:
In between those two extremes, we really have some beauty here.

Mark:
Right.

Shelley:
And there's a long history to growing amaranths, too.

Mark:
Right, Shelley. Amaranths have been in cultivation for over 8,000 years as a grain plant.

Shelley:
For eating purposes, then.

Mark:
Right. It was called the grain of the Aztecs. And it was utilized in both Central and South American cultures. Planted in fields, it was interspersed in maize fields, or actually planted as a border on the outside of fields as protection from wind and fields.

Shelley:
And you can see how thick of a border this would be, too. Is it good to eat? Why were they eating it.

Mark:
The grain itself-- Actually, an acre of amaranth, you can obtain about a thousand pounds of grain.

Shelley:
So, highly productive.

Mark:
Highly productive, but also very high in fiber, protein; low in saturated fats. So, really, a primitive health food.

Shelley:
There's grain and leaf varieties, and those are edible, too.

Mark:
Right. The leaf varieties are said to taste like spinach. And actually, Asian cuisine, particularly in China, has utilized these for over 400 years.

Shelley:
Now, here you're growing them for the beauty.

Mark:
Definitely.

Shelley:
Do you have some favorites?

Mark:
Yes, actually, right behind you here is a variety called Big Red. And you can see the plumes, here. This is a grain amaranth. You can see it forms a plume. There's actually hundreds, if not thousands of individual flowers on here. And behind it is one that's aged a little further along.

Shelley:
This is the same plant?

Mark:
Right, it's starting to go to seed.

Shelley:
Look at all the seeds, though, that's a lot of grain.

Mark:
You bet.

Shelley:
There's some very bold colors in this bed. I see an orange one that intrigues me.

Mark:
Right, further along, there's one called Orange Giant. Again, that's a grain amaranth called giant because it will achieve heights of eight feet tall. It gets huge amber plumes in late summer. It's great for the back of the border in full sun.

Shelley:
These are not petite, little plants for the front of the bed.

Mark:
Right.

Shelley:
Now, you've got one here-- The first thing I noticed, actually, is the wonderful striped trunk. Look at the stripes on that.

Mark:
This amaranth is aptly named Burgundy, not only for the striping in the actual stem, but burgundy leaves and these huge plumes.

Shelley:
Oh, look at this!

Mark:
This species of amaranth is sort of a crossover. It's utilized, not only for grain, but also for leafs, so it's sort of a double whammy with utilizing it.

Shelley:
So far, we've been pretty much looking at the grain varieties for ornamental purposes. But there are some leaf varieties that you really like, too.

Mark:
You bet. Actually, our leaf variety's common name is fountain plant, because the new growth is typically very bright. There's one called Inchoi, which has great burgundy markings on the leaves. All of these achieve heights of about four feet tall, or so.

Shelley:
These are not petite plants.

Mark:
Right. And there's two great ones on the market now that are very popular. One is called Aurora, which the new growth is a bright yellow, aging to green. But the new growth continues to be bright yellow as it grows taller. And my favorite is called Early Splendor. It's a combination of burgundy leaves and has a sort of luminescent pink growth to the new leaves.

Shelley:
Luminescent is the word . These things look like they glow in the dark.

Mark:
They sure do.

Shelley:
They'd be great, maybe in a night garden, even, an experiment. Now, you said, "on the market." Are we going to find these plants in nurseries? How are we going to get these?

Mark:
Amaranths are becoming more popular. They're very popular in Europe, not only utilized for grain, but also ornamentality. What we're finding is some of the leaf amaranths are common in garden centers, but a lot of these taller ones, you can only obtain as seed. And you have to do a little bit of searching. You have Seed Savers Exchange.

Shelley:
They're a good source.

Mark:
And the Internet. Just do a little research.

Shelley:
And growing them-- If we're going to start them from seed, do we have to start them indoors? Can we direct seed?

Mark:
You can direct seed. They won't do much until the ground warms up to over 70, then they take right off.

Shelley:
We'll get this kind of result from direct seeding in the ground?

Mark:
Yes, you will.

Shelley:
Fantastic. Any down side to these wonderful plants?

Mark:
Well, the downside really gets back to talking about pig weed and that all amaranths tend to reseed and they can be a little bit troublesome.

Shelley:
So, kind of look around the bed next spring.

Mark:
Right, you'll see some babies coming up. But another problem could be staking, because they get top heavy as they bloom later in the season and tend to be prone to wind throw, where wind can sort of snap them off. .

Shelley:
So, two sticks in the ground will take care of the problem.

Mark:
You bet.

Shelley:
Okay, thanks, Mark. Next, we'll talk about how to eat these and what they taste like. They're good for you!

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