Information about plants & gardens for Brisbane & Qld
species, hybrids and cultivarsFamily: Amaranthaceae
The button-like, papery flower heads of the ornamental annual Gomphrena globosa will be familiar to many readers, but compared to petunias and pansies, the genus hasn't received a lot of attention from breeders. This may be changing, however, with some significant new varieties released in recent years. We're likely to see more buzz about gomophrenas in the near future, so it's time to get to know them better.
Gomphrena species belong to the family Amaranthaceae, which contains a variety of edible, ornamental and weed species. Ornamental Amaranthaceae include Amaranthus and Celosia as well as Gomphrena. The recently commercialised Australian native Ptilotus is also a member of this family.
The "flowers" of Gomphrena species are actually a cluster of papery bracts between which the tiny true flowers are borne. New bracts and flowers are developed at the tip as old ones fall away, meaning the "flower" can last quite a long time on the plant.
Narrow leaves borne on branching stems with long internodes mean the larger types, if given space, form an attractive low bush of airy foliage, especially if given a bit of tip pruning early on.
Gomphrenas love heat. They can also tolerate some dryness, are relatively pest and disease free and have a long bloom period. These qualities help explain why the genus is making inroads in the bedding plant scene, given our increasing need to reduce water, chemical and labour inputs.
While well suited to traditional garden styles, the unusual "architectural" form of both flowers and overall plant habit means they are not out of place in more contemporary designs.
There has also been an surge of interest in butterfly gardens in recent years, and gomphrenas are popular to include as a nectar source.
What's more, they are suitable for cut flowers, either fresh or dried. With so many admirable qualities, it's little wonder they're becoming so popular.
Commonly known as globe amaranth or bachelor buttons. Generations of gardeners have valued this annual for its ease of growth, especially in hot conditions. It is believed that globe amaranth originated in India and was introduced to America in 1714 .
Some well-known G. globosa strains include Buddy and Gnome. Some of the QIS series are G. globosa. Globe amaranth is a facultative short day plant .
While G. globosa varieties come in the white/pink/purple colour ranges, G. haageana is notable in the orange/red spectrum. It originates from the southwest of North America and has been cultivated since the mid 1800s .
The growth habit is also larger and can last more than one year in a suitable climate. The longer stems make it more suitable for commercial cut flower production.
Best known form is 'Strawberry Fields', with a orange-red flower heads that look a little like strawberries. It has been in cultivation overseas since the 1920s at least . Other red and orange selections are also commercially available as part of the QIS Series. There's a lavender variety in the US.
Marketed as having "more blooms per plant than other gomphrenas", and a "scaffolding" habit , the arrival of Fireworks around 2009 did a great deal to increase interest in the genus.
Those who have grown it rave about its toughness, prolific blooming and its stunning visual effect. It can reach over a metre high and wide, with flowers held aloft on long stems. It can be cut back to return the following year if not killed by cold.
The floral bracts are hot pink, complimented by the tiny gold flowers protruding from within. Given the popularity of this plant, we might expect new colours to introduced into this line in the future. It has been introduced in Australia but it may be still hard to find here.
Gomphrena Pink Zazzle™
Also hot pink, this new hybrid is smaller and more compact than Fireworks, with fuzzy leaves. Large flowers, good branching and daylength-neutral flowering are key features being promoted in addition to all-round toughness .
Another new release, this is the first vegetatively propagated Gomphrena series. These hybrids are touted as having "unique texture, mounding habit and continuous flowering" 
It's unlikely that Pink Zazzle and Pinball are yet available in Australia, but gardeners may wish to keep an eye out for these and other new varieties in coming years.
There are many species native to Australia, with some attempt made to introduce selections into commercial trade. These include G. leontopodioides 'Empress', G. leontopodioides 'Balboa' and G. flaccida 'Pink Gem'. Gomphrena canescens is another species with ornamental potential.
While these have yet to achieve widespread popularity, it's possible that they might get fresh attention with the surge of interest in the genus. Furthermore, these and other Australian natives could also be a source of useful traits in future hybridisation programs.
A review of garden gomphrenas wouldn't be complete without mention of the common weed G. celosioides. It's a low-growing, drought tolerant pest plant with a white infloresence of a form typical of the genus.
References and further reading
 Globe Amaranth - Plant of the Week University of Arkansas
 Light and flowering of bedding plants Michigan State University
 Growing Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields' From Seed Higgledy Garden
 Easy-to-grow Fireworks Gomphrena is super-vigorous, super-colourful Ball Horticultural Company
 How to Grow Pink Zazzle™ Gomphrena hybrid PW EuroAmerican
 Pinball™ Sakata Ornamentals
More Online Information
These links are provided for general information and research. Note that some of the plants or products discussed in links below may be unavailable in Australia or may not be suitable for our conditions.
GRIN Species Records of Gomphrena Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)
Gomphrena offers beauty, toughness Mississippi State University
Gomphrena globosa - Globe Amaranth Cal's Plant of the Week, University of Oklahoma
Globe Amaranth - Plant of the Week University of Arkansas
Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena globosa University of Wisconsin-Extension Master Gardener Program
Gomphrena globosa (Globe Amaranth), a colorful everlasting John&Jacq~s Garden, Malaysia
Gomphrena globosa post at Typicalgardener's Blog, Malaysia
Gomphrena Flowers of India
Light and flowering of bedding plants Michigan State University
Globe Amaranth - Plant of the Week University of Arkansas
Growing Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields' From Seed Higgledy Garden
New Cultivars and Hybrids
New gomphrena varieties offer more landscape options Louisiana State University Agricultural Center
Gomphrena sp. 'Fireworks' - An explosive annual that celebrates Texas extremes Dallas Plant Trials
Easy-to-grow Fireworks Gomphrena is super-vigorous, super-colourful Ball Horticultural Company
Fireworks gomphrena dazzles at plant trials (08-20-2009) The Florez Nursery blog, NSW
Add a Little Zazzle to Your Lineup Ball Publishing
How to Grow Pink Zazzle™ Gomphrena hybrid PW EuroAmerican
Feels Like The First Time - Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle' The Plant Provocateur (blog)
Pink Zazzle gomphrena dazzles Hoosier Gardener
Pinball™ Sakata Ornamentals
Australian species and cultivars
Genus = Gomphrena Australian Plant Image Index, Australian National Botanic Gardens
Gomphrena (Gomphrena leontopodioides) Variety: Empress IP Australia (.doc format)
Gomphrena Empress (Gomphrena leontopodioides) Aussie Colours dfactsheet (PDF)
Gomphrena plant named `Balboa` US Patent and Trademark Office
Gomphrena 'Pink Gem' (Gomphrena flaccida) Aussie Colours dfactsheet (PDF)
Gomphrena canescens The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan
Gomphrena canescens R.Br. North Queensland Plants website
Gomphrena flaccida R.Br. (Northern Territory) North Queensland Plants website
Gomphrena cunninghamii (Moq.) Druce North Queensland Plants website
Understanding the biochemical basis of flower colour in Australian native Ptilotus and Gomphrena Australian Flora Foundation