Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and what could be more appropriate than a post on a romance-themed flower: Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). You have to wonder about this name, though. I get this mental picture of a jilted lover and a heartless ex. Which one of them did the stabbing?
Thankfully, the flower we call Love Lies Bleeding isn’t quite so melodramatic. It’s a member of the amaranth family from the Andes of South America, where it is known as kiwicha, and is now grown around the world.
Plants typically reach three to five feet high and two feet wide. Large, textured, light green leaves climb stems topped with cascading clusters of two-foot long blossoms resembling ropes or tassles, which give the plants their other common name, tassel flower. Most cultivars have intensely wine-red flowers, although other colors are available—‘Viridis’ has less conspicuous green flowers and is mostly grown as a vegetable; ‘Golden Giant’ has especially thick flowers in a rich orange-yellow.
Love Lies Bleeding is usually started from seed, which is readily available. In our climate, they’re tender annuals. Since seedlings take a long time to bloom, start them now. Seed indoors under lights in large-celled containers. The seeds take two weeks to germinate and seedlings hate to be root-bound. Set out transplants in late May, after all danger of freezing has (hopefully) passed. Flowers appear in mid-summer and last until frost. Plants thrive in heat and full sun and aren’t picky about soil, but they do require supplemental watering during dry spells.
With such an impressive stature, Love Lies Bleeding belongs in the back of the flower garden, where it can tower over lesser plants. Or grow in large containers, perhaps accompanied by Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘rubrum’), contrasting light pink petunias, and trailing, lime green sweet potato vines. The flowers are often used in arrangements, fresh or dried, but drying turns them tan to bronze.
If you get tired of looking at your Love Lies Bleeding, you can always eat it. Both the leaves and the seeds are edible, and are popular in India, Africa, and South America. Unfortunately, deer and rabbits also relish the plants. So do snails, slugs, and Japanese Beetles; thankfully, none of those are significant pests in the Pikes Peak area.