The amaranth family got its Greek name from the word for ‘fire’ because of their flame-shaped flower clusters.
Also known as the pigweed family, this group of plants belongs to the order Caryophyllales. The Caryophyllales include ice plants, cacti, carnations, and many carnivorous plants. As different as all these plants seem, from the outside, their seed structure and photosynthesis pathway make it obvious to people who look that closely. We’ll just take their word for it as we learn about this particular plant family.
Amaranth family plants
In addition to amaranth, this plant family includes quinoa, lamb’s quarters, and pigweed. These plants have been used as vegetables and pseudocereals for thousands of years. Many people are allergic to the pollen of these plants, which is present late summer through autumn.
Recent genetic testing has shown that it also includes the goosefoot family, or chenopods. The chenopods got their name because the leaves look like a goose’s foot. Common chenopods include beets, sugar beets, California goosefoot, spinach, and chard. One interesting trait of this family is that perennial stems exhibit a thickening secondary growth, the same growth used by trees. Most monocots do not do this.
Overall, members of the amaranth family tend to be very drought tolerant, and they perform better in alkaline soils, making them a good choice in the Bay Area. Amaranth family plants can also grow in soil with higher salt levels than many others.
Amaranth family flowers
The attractive spiked flowers are what make this family popular as both edible and ornamental plants. If you grow members of the amaranth family in your landscape, and allow them to bolt and go to seed, you will be able to enjoy these amazing floral displays, plus, you will be able to harvest hundreds and hundreds of seeds for your meals or future crops. [I just learned that beet sprouts are delicious in salads!]
While members of the amaranth family are not poisonous, many varieties contain oxalic acid in their leaves, so the cooking water should be discarded.
Do you have any members of this family in your garden?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!