Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cassia alata (Candle Bush)

Cassia alata is a great old standby for late summer and fall blooms.  The plants grow quickly and can live for several years.  The yellow flower spikes that form on the tip of each branch are where the plant gets the name Candle Bush.  Flowers start opening at the bottom and work their way up.  The spike elongates as the bloom period progresses.  Flower spikes typically will be 6-12 inches in height.
They are both a nectar source and larval host plant for Sulphur butterflies.  Interestingly, caterpillars that feed on the leaves of the plant will be green, and those that feed on the flowers will be yellow.
This plant is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.  In tropical climates, Cassia alata becomes tree-like, reaching heights of 12 foot or more.  In subtropical areas that experience occasional light freezes, the plant is more shrubby.  During years with hard freezes, the plant behaves more like a perennial, regenerating quickly from the roots and blooming by late summer.  In colder climates with a long-enough growing season, Cassia alata can even be grown as an annual for a fall bloom.  Flowers will start forming when the plant is about 4 foot tall so it will bloom well in containers.  Trimming branch tips back in the spring will cause further branching and more blooms.  The large, pinnate leaves are also an attractive feature.
Rather than Cassia, this plant is sometimes listed as Senna (a closely related genus).  Taxonomists have been lumping and splitting these two genera for generations so either name is acceptable.  There are many other common names such as Popcorn Senna, Christmas Candle, and Golden Candlesticks.
Full or half-day sun is required for best bloom.
In traditional medicines, the leaves or sap are used to treat fungal infections.  The boiled leaves are a remedy for high blood pressure in Africa, while in South America it is a remedy for snakebite and venereal disease.  Clearly this is a plant no one can do without!
Disclaimer:  No medical claims are being made here.  This is for informational purposes only.
Buy seeds of Cassia alata!


~fer said...

Beautiful plant. I have seen it in tree form, it is amazing.

That is a fun fact about the butterflies, i didn't know they would change color depending on the food, it would be nice to see it in person

Susan said...

This plant is one of my favorites...oh, yea and the sulphur butterflies love it, too.

BernieH said...

While I have to admit it's a great looking plant ... in my part of the world it's considered a weed. It pops up absolutely everywhere and has now colonised large sections of the bushland here. I don't have them in my garden any more but I can appreciate your lovely photos.

yummmm said...


looks like the indian popcorn I used to eat as a kid :)