Celosia cristata
 

 

 
Celosias – also known as cockscombs – are hardy plants, despite their velvety blossoms.

 

Bert’s monumental cock-up

What’s wrong with the word “cock”? It’s a male chicken; the bird that makes annoying noises first thing in the morning.

What’s the problem with such a simple word?

There will inevitably be those among the Gazette readership who will already be cringing at the prospect of what may come next. If you’ll pardon the expression.

And that’s the problem. I understand that there are those among us who may choose to misconstrue words that have a perfectly innocent dictionary definition. If I was the type of person with an infantile urge to list a whole pile of double entendres, I’d do so, but you know me better than that. So I won’t. Or maybe I will.

I certainly won’t mention the glorious day when the commentator of a five-day cricket test match, obviously desperate for something to liven up the proceedings in an otherwise dull game, commented on who the principle players were at that particular moment: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.”

These “misunderstandings” have been around for years. Hands up who remembers that children’s cartoon on the BBC that came on just before the news, Captain Pugwash? For years I fondly remembered the cast of characters: Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy. I only recently discovered that in fact, the crew of the famous Black Pig ship included sailors with no such names. How disappointing. The real crew consisted of Master Mate, Tom the Cabin Boy and pirates Barnabas and Willy. Well, “Willy” is up there, I suppose. Can I say that?

The Americans have managed it for real. The cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life was famous for these. They got away with a fast food restaurant called Chokey Chicken, a board game the characters play called Spank the Monkey, and an eye doctor cupping one of Rocko’s eyes in his hand and asking him to “cough, please”.

Back to the cock, anyway. The head of a cock is inevitably crowned with a magnificent red growth that flaps around in the breeze; something that has no other purpose than to impress the females of the species. You’re absolutely right – that rather daft flappy piece of skin is known as the cockscomb.

Coincidentally, there’s a plant that thrives here in Phuket that has exactly the same name, cockscomb – though scientific types know it as the Celosia cristata.

Celosias are probably one of the most eye-catching annuals to grow in the garden. Their vivid hues virtually glow – the one in the picture is in my front garden. It’s almost as if some maniacal painter has been given the commission to produce the deepest color they could come up with. This is it.

Celosias are available at most garden centers in Phuket at the moment. Once you get them home, you’ll find that they’re pretty versatile and will be happy to grow in most any type of soil (even heavy clay) as long as they are in full sun. They will survive heat and drought unscathed.

These things are all over the place. Public gardens and highway departments aren’t daft – they take advantage of the low-maintenance, high-impact aspects of celosias. If they can grow so successfully with so little attention, you’ll have a pretty hard job killing them off at home; these things are virtually indestructible.

The Celosia cristata is a herbaceous plant, meaning that it lacks a permanent woody stem. As we’d all agree, woody stems would always be preferable if at all possible. If you touch the flowers; they’re soft in a very un-flowerlike way, though not at all limp. The cockscomb feels a bit like velvet; hardly your typical flower.

They grow well in both humid and arid conditions, and their flowers can last for up to eight weeks. A high number of seeds can be produced by each flower, up to 43,000 per ounce. The plant often grows up to one foot in height, though many are smaller. The leaves are either green or bronze/maroon, depending upon the cultivar. The flowers are usually red, yellow, pink or orange, though other colors can be found. With some hybrids, a variety of colors are present on the same plant.

It’s quite likely that a request for a cockscomb in Phuket will be received with far fewer sniggers than in many gardening establishments in the West. You never know your luck though – one of the proprietors may have a sense of humor as warped as many of us.

This reminds me of the story of a young lady who walked into a shop and asked the owner for a double entendre. So he gave her one. Fnarr fnarr.

 

 

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