The City Naturalist

City Naturalist


Article and Photos by Leslie Day

AMARANTH: The name Amaranthus retroflexus comes from two Greek words which mean "not withering". The tiny, colorful flowers can be red or green and they grow on long spikes.

LEAVES: 3-6" long, oval to lanceolate are attached to the stem by stalks. The margins, or edges of the leaves are entire or untoothed.

HEIGHT: Amaranth plants grow up to 4 feet. They then start to trail along the ground.

FLOWERING occurs between August and October, after which the seeds develop.

HABITAT: disturbed areas, roadsides and cultivated soil.

RANGE: throughout the United States.

the brightly colored flowers retain their color for a long period of time even after they are dried. As a result they became the symbol of immortality in ancient Greece. The early Christian church also adopted the Amaranth as a symbol of immortality. It was grown in monastery gardens during the Middle Ages. Amaranth is still cultivated in Spain and Portugal and continues to play a part in religious ceremonies in the churches of these countries. In Paradise Lost, Milton crowns the angels with the immortal amaranth.

When the English came to America, the Pilgrams and early colonists brought Amaranth with them and planted it in their gardens in Jamestown and Williamsburg, Cape Cod and the Bay Colony. Throughout the Aztec Empire Amaranth seed ground into flour was their main grain crop.

VALUE AS A FOOD CROP: The amaranth that grows wild in North America is often called "Pigweed". The leaves have an extremely high vitamin and mineral content.Amaranth seed is at least as rich in protein as soybeans and contains amino acids essential to health. The leaves can be picked when young and used as greens.

VALUE TO THE BIRDS: Juncos, White throated sparrows, and House sparrows eat the tiny seeds of the Amaranth and depend on these and other "weed" seeds during the long, cold winter months.

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