If you’re looking for a tough plant that will tolerate the combination of summer heat and humidity and keep right on blooming, take a look at gomphrena.

Sometimes called globe amaranth, gomphrena is a plant that likes it hot—really hot! That means gomphrena grows great in Mississippi. Legend has it that the original planting was at the gates of Hades. Whether that is true or not, one thing is for certain: Gomphrena grows like heck.

Gomphrena produces flowers from early summer to frost in the fall. The flowers are cloverlike, everlasting and strawlike in texture. The flower heads are actually bracts, which are leaves resembling petals. The small flowers are inconspicuous and only noticeable when the yellow stamens poke out. Flower colors range from white to purple and red.

Gomphrenas are native to Central America and actually related to the alternanthera, which is another garden favorite of mine.

These plants have relatively few pest problems. Gomphrena’s strong garden performance is exemplified by it having been chosen as a Mississippi Medallion plant twice in the past eight years.

The first selection was All-Around Purple in 2008. These plants will reach up to 24 inches tall and wide.

The second Mississippi Medallion winner was Fireworks, chosen in 2010. And true to its name, this selection is as beautiful as any fireworks display I’ve ever seen. The hot-pink flowers seem almost iridescent, and the little yellow tips seem to capture the essence of a celebratory explosion. Fireworks is a big plant, growing up to 4 feet tall and wide, so plan your landscape bed accordingly.

There are some other gomphrena selections I’ve enjoyed that I think you should consider.

The Gnome series includes compact plants that reach only 10 to 12 inches tall. They have white, pink and purple flowers. This compact selection makes a fine container plant, or it can be used as a border along a sunny path.

A newer series is the Ping Pong gomphrena, which delivers a blast of color in any landscape bed. This is a medium-sized plant growing to about 16 inches tall.

Be sure to plant in the full sun. Gomphrena tolerates partial shade, but the best flowering show requires high light levels. Your plants will thrive as long as the planting bed is well drained. Once established in the spring, Gomphrena will actually become somewhat drought tolerant, but you will have to water it during extended dry periods.

Gomphrena makes a good dried flower and is actually classified as an everlasting. To prepare the flowers, tie the stems in bunches and hang them upside down to dry in an airy room out of direct light. The flowers will retain their color and are great additions to craft projects and dried flower arrangements.

You can also display the colorful, ball-shaped flowers in shallow dishes or use them in a potpourri mix.

Gomphrenas look great in a combination container paired with the Diamond Frost euphoria, another great Mississippi Medallion winner.

• Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs.

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