days to maturity: 50
plant spacing: 2 plants per square foot
sunlight requirements: 8-14 hours
look out for: spider mites, thrips
harvest notes: harvest flowers and leaves as needed
Wild cosmos, aka Kings Salad, Kenikir or Ulam Raja is a special plant we have been growing for just the last couple of seasons, but in that short time we have fallen for it hard. Native to the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of North and South America, it was brought by the Spanish to Southern Philippines and eventually made its way to Malaysia and beyond where it is commonly served as salad. Their leaves taste like unripe mangoes with a slightly bitter aftertaste and make a good local alternative for arugula. The small pink and white flowers are also edible. Traditionally the leaves have been used boost blood circulation, strengthen the bones and reduce body heat. The leaves lower blood sugar levels and reduce blood pressure and are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols and have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
It can be hard to find summer friendly flowering plants that have a sprawling wildlflower look (most of them are tropical looking, with large waxy leaves) which is one reason why we are always reaching for the wild cosmos in our landscaping projects. Pruning the growing tip will encourage bushier plants, and if you let them grow naturally they will get up to 6 feet tall and then burst with sprays of tiny baby pink flowers. Prune the flowers off before they make seed and it will continue making new growth and more flowers. Save a couple of dry seeds to save for your next planting, or let it go completely wild and it will seed itself all over your yard.
Another fun thing about Wild Cosmos is that they go to sleep at night. “Nyctinasty” is the circadian rhythm of higher plants in response to the onset of darkness, or a plant "sleeping". Wild Cosmos plants go to bed every night by folding their leaves up into themselves, which is pretty cute.