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Page 146

Spanish: kiwicha, amaranto, trigo inca, achis, achita, chaquilla, sangorache, borlas.11

Portuguese: amaranto de cauda

English: amaranth, love-lies-bleeding, red-hot cattail, bush green, Inca wheat (normally used for quinoa)

French: amarante caudée

Origin. White-seeded and apparently domesticated kiwicha has been found in Andean tombs more than 4,000 years old. It is not found in the wild, and although until recently it has been a “rustic” crop, it is believed that it has long been fully domesticated.

Although never as important or imbued with such special attributes as the pre-Columbian Mexican amaranths, kiwicha undoubtedly played an important nutritional role in pre-Conquest Andean society, particularly in the region of the Incan and Aymaran homelands in southern Peru and Bolivia.

Description. Kiwicha is an annual, broad-leaved dicotyledon. Its central stem can reach 2–2.5 m at maturity, although most varieties are shorter. Usually, leaves and side branches form on the central stalk (depending on the density of plants in an area). These may start as low as the base of the plant (depending on variety), which, in general, is shaped like an irregular cylinder.12 The taproot is short and enlarged, with secondary roots penetrating downwards into the deeper soil.

The often spectacular flowers and seed are in panicles that arise from lateral buds and—especially—from the main stem. In some types the inflorescences can be 90 cm long, and often look like a long, red cat's tail. They can be erect, semi-erect, or lax. Each panicle has male and female flowers and is self-pollinating (the flowers can also be wind pollinated).

The fruits (pyxidia) each contain a single seed. The seeds are seldom larger than 1 mm in diameter but occur in massive numbers. Color ranges from black through red to the more common ivory or white. The seed covering is shiny, and the embryo is curved around the small endosperm (perisperm), much as in quinoa. Unlike quinoa, however, amaranth seeds contain no bitter saponins.

The chromosome number is usually n = 32 and occasionally n = 34.


11 The names “bledo” and “bledos” (“wild amaranth” in Castilian) are also used. The plant has also been confusingly called “quinua,” “quinua de Castilla” (Ecuador), and “quinua del valle” because of the superficial similarity to quinoa.
12 These side branches are prone to breaking away from the plant (lodging), and harvesting heads of grain low on the plant is also more difficult. A major goal of selection has been a plant with its seed concentrated at the top of the central stem (see page 126).


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