What is Cockscomb?

Mary McMahon

Cockscomb, also known as Celosia cristata or simply celosia, is a brightly colored annual flower with a bizarre shape that resembles the folds of a rooster's comb, or a brain. The plant is native to Africa, but is widely grown all over the world for use in dried flower arrangements, ornamental borders, and to add blocks of color to a fall garden. The flowers come in a range of vivid colors including red, orange, pink, yellow, and a rich gold, and will bloom well into the autumn, especially if the cockscomb plants are routinely dead headed and well cared for. In addition to doing well in the garden, cockscomb also thrives as an outdoor potted plant.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

When fully grown, cockscomb can range from 10 inches (25 centimeters) and three feet (almost one meter) in height, with simple green leaves which remain close to the ground. The strangely shaped flowers emerge from the plant like crests, and can be larger than a human hand. Cockscomb thrives in all USDA zones, although it is not very frost tolerant, and should always be planted out after the last frost in cooler regions. When planting cockscomb, keep the seedlings around 12 inches (30 centimeters) apart so that the mature plants have plenty of room to grow, and keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. To minimize transplant shock, the seedlings can be started in peat pots which can be planted right along with the seedlings to provide mulch and fertilizer.

One of the more appealing qualities of cockscomb in that it does well in poor soil, although it prefers full sun to partial shade. In areas of the garden where other plants are struggling, cockscomb will often run rampant. If allowed to grow for several years, the plant will help renew the soil so that other plants can grow there as well, especially if you mulch the dead plants into the soil at the end of the season rather than removing them. Cockscomb also has a late blooming period; the bright colors of cockscomb will rejuvenate a tired fall garden, and will also be retained if the flower is dried.

When selecting cockscomb for drying, choose large, well formed flowers with a vivid color and no signs of browning or wilting. Collect the flowers with a stem as long as possible, to allow you more flexibility in dried flower arrangements, and dry them using your method of choice. Make sure to leave flowers behind to reseed for next year, and when the plants have died off entirely, remove them from the soil and add to the garden compost.

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