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brightly colored flower heads that look like soft, fluffy plumes and remind the observer of crimson, scarlet, or gold feathers. The other is a grotesque genetic anomaly whose flowers are crammed together into wavy lines. These massively wrinkled yellow, orange, crimson, or pink crests often resemble cock’s combs. Other variants look like some bright brain coral that inadvertently crawled up out of its habitat beneath the tropical seas.

Because of its flavor, food value, and familiarity, the crop is widely consumed in several parts of Africa. It is, however, of greatest importance in Nigeria and nearby countries. The leaves, young stems, and young flower spikes are handled like spinach. They go into soups and stews, and are served as a nutty-flavored side dish with meat or fish or more commonly with a cereal-based main course such as maize porridge. In some places the leaves are finely chopped and sprinkled into the cooking pot. The flavor is reportedly pleasant, mild, and entirely lacking the bitterness that sometimes spoils other leafy vegetables. The nutritional value is roughly like that of other leafy vegetables.

Despite its African origin (a claim that is not without dispute), celosia is known as a foodstuff in Indonesia and India. Moreover, in the future it might become more widely eaten, especially in the hot and malnourished regions of the equatorial zone. In that regard, it has already been hailed as the often-wished-for vegetable that “grows like a weed without demanding all the tender loving care that other vegetables seem to need.”5

Because of its wide tolerance to both tropical and dry conditions and because it is usually unaffected by pests, diseases, or soil type, it is among the most promising greens for harsh or fickle growing conditions. The plants spring up with surprising vigor from each tiny seed. They have especial promise for cultivation near millions of huts and hovels, whose occupants can then both enjoy these flamboyant floral accessories and also pluck off some leaves each day and drop them into the soup pot. However, it should be noted that to yield well they need fertile soil.

For subsistence production these supremely self-reliant and uncomplicated resources seem ideally suited. The ornamental form is already spread worldwide and is often to be seen growing, uncultivated and happy as a weed. They propagate easily, require little care, and often reseed themselves year after year. Kaphikautesi, a name used for this plant in

flowers and seeds produced in dense spikes. Nonetheless, Celosia is a separate genus and differs in having the normal C3 photosynthetic pathway rather than the unusual C4 cycle that endows drought tolerance on amaranths. This present chapter should be read in concert with the first chapter, which details issues written with leaf amaranths in mind but that also relate to celosia, which appears to be a good alternative leaf vegetable to local amaranths where they might tend to be susceptible to insect pests.


“Every place I have tried it,” writes Martin Price of Florida, “it grows with no work. We have had no disease problems and very little insect damage. It reseeds itself abundantly and new plants have come up in the immediate vicinity.”

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