Colorado Master Gardeners: What was that name again?
September 5, 2017
Growing among other annuals in Lisa Godbolt's cutting garden, the love-lies-bleeding is a pretty spot of color. But wait, what was that name again?
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is an annual that boasts a long association with gardeners for its distinctive-looking flowers. A cutting from Lisa's garden won a Grand Champion ribbon at this year's Routt County Fair, with its stunning deep-red, tail-like flowers. It is easy to grow from seed and makes for beautiful and long-lasting flower arrangements.
But what is with the name? Love-lies-bleeding was a popular flower in the Victorian era, growing in English gardens and used as a symbol for hopeless love in the Victorian language of flowers. This practice of attaching meaning to flowers has been part of traditional cultures for thousands of years. It is also sometimes called Inca wheat, referring to the edible nature of the plant. Its scientific name, Amaranthus, is from the Greek word meaning "never fading," referring to the long-lived flowers; caudatus refers to the flower's long tail.
Love-lies-bleeding is part of the Amaranth (Amaranthaceaea) family, which also includes important food crops, such as beets and quinoa. The largest genus in the family, Amaranth (Amaranthus), originated in Mesoamerica and includes the species Amaranth, an important food source for thousands of years that dates back to the Aztecs. These plants produce edible leaves and seeds with high nutritional value. Because the seeds are milled like grain, the plants are called pseudo-grain crops. Examples include Inca wheat (aka love-lies-bleeding), red amaranth and quinoa. Not only high-protein, these pseudo-grains contain significant amounts of iron and fiber, unlike traditional grains, such as oats, wheat and rice.
Related Amaranth species have spread throughout the world, providing nutrition from the plants' leaves and seeds. Other species have been cultivated as ornamental plants, but far more are considered weeds and go by the name pigweed. In some climates, love-lies-bleeding can be invasive and may also be labeled a weed, but it grows beautifully in our part of the world.
If you are looking for a showy annual that grows up to four feet tall and produces bright red flowers, love-lies-bleeding is a good choice. It is drought-tolerant, with long-lasting blooms and needs very little but a bit of water and lots of sunshine. It grows quite well among other showy annuals in Lisa's garden. For an edible annual, love-lies-bleeding might be an interesting choice. My research indicates its leaves and seeds are vitamin-rich and edible, but you will want to do your own research.
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As for attracting wildlife, this annual may not be your best choice, as it is not native to our area. It will draw hummingbirds to your garden, though, with its red flowers, and it will grow nicely alongside native pollinator plants.
If you are interested in learning more about love-lies-bleeding, there is a wealth of information online. It has caught the attention of gardeners, as well as historians and others. = In fact, Elton John wrote a song called "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding."
I think I will remember the name now.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.