Metro-East Living

Surpriseflower isa gift of nature

Crest variety celosias resemble the human brain.
Crest variety celosias resemble the human brain.

Q: I have an annual flower bed that has an unusual flower. The bed has celosia plants that come back every year in the same bed. I don’t mulch the bed because I want the celosia plants to come back each year. The plants are red, yellow and orange. They have re-seeded for the past 10 years. This year, I have a large yellowish gold single plant and it is beautiful. I have enclosed a picture and I hope you can give me an opinion of what you think it is.

T. S. of Belleville

A: Your photo shows a very beautiful celosia plant, a “crest” variety known in the trade as “Amigo,” which is 10 inches across, or “Chief,” which is 6. It is usually grown to be used as a cut flower by florists, not as a bedding plant. Most greenhouses do not grow this type of plant as it takes too long to reach a salable plant size. That this plant ever made its way into your bed is unusual since your plants are coming back each year as volunteers.

The other celosias in your photo are “plumed” varieties, which look feathered spike type flowers. The unusual flower looks a little like the human brain. I do know that your type of celosia is very heat tolerant, which should do very well in our area. I am glad you took a photo of this unusual occurrence. You should show your prize to everyone and be proud.

I would recommend that you save several parts of the flower for seed to be produced and grown next year to see what type of plants result. As the flowers begin to dry out at the end of summer, cut parts of the flower so you can hang them upside down and catch the seed in a cloth bag and allow them to fully dry. Next spring, plant the resulting seed in another location to see if the seed will reproduce plants that form the same type of flowers or different colors.

In 1946, the book “Plant Magic” by James P. Haworth, mentioned a chemical, colchicine, which is produced by the fall crocus (Colchicum autumnale), which produces a water soluble powder yellow powder in the seeds. This has caused plants nearby to grow quite differently — taller and producing unusual flowers. So some gardeners actually grow the autumn crocus to experiment with plants growing nearby.

Another chemical found in nature, acenapthene, has produced similar results of colchicine. This derivative of tar was seen more in those days as most people were burning coal to heat their houses. Sometimes this chemical leached out to produce some unusual effects on plants growing nearby.

You may want to check your soil to see if one of these two chemicals may have had something to do with it.

A bird sometimes gives gifts like this, too, and deposits a seed in the garden from a place that was growing one of these crested types of celosia.

Sometimes Mother Nature helps give you a surprise with a dose of radiation that affects a plant and causes a mutation to result, but most of those are detrimental to the plant, similar to skin cancer with people. But every once in a while, you find something that you have never seen before.

That’s the reason for saving seed to see what you get next year.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to pkuhl@bnd.com.

Do it now

  • DRYING FLOWERS: Flowers of asters, zinnias, blue salvia, straw flowers and globe amaranths can be cut and hung upside down to dry.
  • TOMATOES: Pick green tomatoes and wrap them in newspaper to store indoors for use later in fall.
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