Plant Profile: Cosmos

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Emma Perry
| February 12, 2016

‘Cosmos has a dainty face and leaves that make me think of lace,’ chants my mum down the phone line. Neither of us can remember what book this rhyme came from, and from the age of five until five minutes ago I thought it was this: ‘Cosmos is a stately lady, likes to grow where it’s not shady,’ which of course was referring to hollyhock, not our pal cosmos.

I’ve chanted my broken hollyhock/cosmos rhyme every time I’ve seen one of these dainty ladies over the last 30 years, and passed it on to many a friend. Guess it’s time to update my botanical rhyme repertoire… But first, let’s talk about the lady with the lacy leaves. It is our Cosmic issue, after all.

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Botanical Name
Cosmos bipinnatus

Common Name
Cosmos, Mexican Aster

Family
Asteraceae

Origin/history
Cosmos is a native of Mexico. It, unsurprisingly, got its name from the Greek word cosmos, meaning both “order” and “world”, because of its evenly placed petals. Spanish priests apparently planted it in missions in Mexico, perhaps hoping to cultivate a sense of harmony and order?

Likes/Dislikes
Cosmos bipinnatus is a happy-go-lucky kinda plant. It’s an annual, which means it lives only one season – after flowering and setting seed it will die off, and new cosmos babies will take its place. It’s known as a prolific self-seeder, which is great if you want a wild meadow garden, but if you’re more of a controlling type, or live near bushland in warmer climes, it may not be the flower for you.

Growing
Our pal cosmos doesn’t need much to keep happy. Just sun, warmth, and pretty average soil. They don’t like too much fertilizer or richness or they’ll get tall and leggy and weird. Make sure though, your soil is well drained. If you live in a cool climate, sow seeds after the last frost.

Cosmos will grow from around 0.5m – 1.5m tall. Its flowers come in a range of colours from pinks, whites and reds, and float above mid-green ferny and frothy foliage. Plant it in spring, and celebrate its floriferous (great word, huh?!) nature in mid to late summer.

Uses
Bee and butterfly attracting!! Yeah, cosmos is a brilliant flower to attract all the little insects to your patch. It’s also a lovely cut flower, of course, and if you were planning on making a wild meadow garden, I think it would be a super addition.

Cosmos, what a lady.

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