Common name: Plumed cockscomb, Silver cock’s comb, Woolflowers
Cockscomb plants are gardeners’ favorites, since they are easy to grow, and come in a wide variety of flaming colors and shapes. There are tiny plants that only grow to a height of 10-12 cms, and tall ones that grow about 90 cms high.
Though they are said to have originated in India or Africa, they are now grown in gardens all over the world, especially in tropical countries with warm, sunny weather. Cockscomb plant stems are soft, green but sometimes tinted red, erect, and branched, bearing leaves that also vary in color depending on the variety.
Most leaves are simple, green in color, and about 6-8 cms long. But some species like the Forest Fire and New Look Red have greenish-yellow or bright red leaves.
The flowers vary in color from yellow, orange, pink, magenta, red, purple, violet, white, burgundy – all bright, flaming, vivid colors that can elevate your garden from ordinary to a tropical paradise. The flowers are long-lived, staying alive for 6-8 weeks, gradually drying up from the base while producing hundreds of tiny black seeds inside cup-like flowerets.
Cockscomb flowers are of three different types – plumes, crests, and spikes characterized by the shape of their flowers. The plumed variety belongs to the Plumosa group bearing fluffy, plume-like flowers made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. The crested variety belongs to the Cristata group with feathery, velvety waves that resemble a brain. The flowers can be as wide as 20-30 cms with closely packed lines of feathery petals.
Cockscomb plants are very sturdy and tolerant to many adverse conditions like poor soil and pollution. They are fussy about sunlight, requiring 6-8 hours of bright, direct sunlight to produce flowers. Make sure you place these plants in a bright, sunny spot in your garden.
Water them frugally since too much water or rain can lead to stem rot. These plants are annuals, dying when the weather becomes too wet or cold. But the seeds falling around the plant can produce tiny plantlets, which should be replanted carefully since Cockscomb plants do not like to be disturbed once they take root.
Leaves are used as green vegetables, and also in soups and salads. Tender leaves are mild-flavored and taste like spinach, but older leaves have a bitter taste. Flowers and seeds have some medicinal properties and are used in the treatment of dysentery, diarrhea, bacterial and parasitic infections, eye diseases, and even snake bites. Leaves are applied as a poultice to heal cuts, wounds, and skin eruptions.
Though Cockscomb plants have escaped cultivation in many places and are considered invasive weeds, they’re still garden favorites. Common variants under cultivation are Smart Look Red, Forest Fire, Flamingo, Glow Red, Century Rose, Arrabona Red, Flamingo Feather, Gypsy Queen, Fan Dance Scarlet, Red Velvet, Fresh Look Orange, King Coral, and many more, all of them showstoppers in home gardens, as well as landscaped areas.
Propagation is through seeds, that are produced abundantly in grown plants.