Celosias belong to a family of more than 50 plants that are native to the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Africa and the Americas. The cultivars produce flowers that are either plume-like (Celosia Pampas Plume) or crested (the Cockscombs). They are believed to be related to Amaranths. The name Celosia comes from the Greek, kelos, meaning "burned" which probably refers to the color of the flower of the indigenous species - red. A dark red crested version of the plant was introduced into Europe in 1570. During the 18th century, the Cockscombs were considered a potted plant by the British while with the American colonists, they were a popular garden flower.
Thomas Jefferson, ever the connoisseur of the strange or unique when it came to gardening included the Cockscombs in his flower garden. Joseph Breck in his 1851 book, The Flower Garden, had this to say, "Celosia cristata (the Cockscombs) is common in most gardens...The color of the scarlet varieties is highly brilliant. None of the other colors are so rich. The yellows are generally rather dull - some of them dirty looking. The scarlets and crimsons are the only colors that look well. There are tall and dwarf varieties..."
During the Victorian era, celosias became important parts of many Victorian gardens. In the 1920's and 1930's, the plants became popular in exhibit competitions at county/state fairs where the object was to product the plant with the largest crest. One award winning specimen had a 21 inch crest.
Celosias can be grown easily from seed. Direct seed in late spring or early summer when the soil temperature has risen above 70 degrees. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil and keep moist until germination. The seeds will germinate in less than 2 weeks. Thin dwarf cockscombs and the plume varieties to 6-8 inches and the tall varieties to 12-15 inches. The plants require full sun and like warmth, but their roots must be kept moist at all times. If the roots are allowed to dry out, the plant and its flower will be permanently damaged. The crests and plumes will begin to appear by late July or early August. To achieve the largest crests on the Cockscombs, the plants need rich soil and they need to be fed every two weeks with a fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Celosias love to be grown in pots. Some gardeners say they do better in pots than in the ground. Both the crests and the plumes can be dried.