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On Gardening: Emperorís candlestick, a nostalgic trip to the islands

March 27, 2017

                  

Growing the Emperor's candlestick plant will give you a nostalgia experience of your last trip to the islands

I was working on a magazine piece this week on nostalgia gardening. While we tend to think of nostalgia gardening as being related to growing something that is heirloom or antique it can also be considered a plant that mentally transports you back to another time or place. One plant that instantly does that is the Emperorís candlestick, Senna alata formerly Cassia alata.

It is considered a shrub in the tropics. Though we see it in gardens as a beautiful flower, in third world countries it is seen as a valuable medicinal plant. In Mexico and Samoa, it is used for snake-bites, in other countries it is used for herpes and venereal diseases, ringworm, and digestive disorders. Butterfly lovers treasure it as a host plant for Sulphur butterflies.

It can be grown successfully as an annual just about anywhere in the country. Here in Savannah, Ga., it too is an annual flower and stunning from summer through frost. The candlestick plant is in the legume family and even though it does not bloom until mid-to-late-summer the large pinnately compound foliage lends a textural extravaganza even when flowers arenít present.

Since it does grow large, up to 8 feet tall, with the compound leaves stretching out 3 feet in each direction you will want to place it at the back of your border. I have grown them in beds where I had over a dozen and while pretty it was a little overwhelming. Probably two to three plants in a mixed border is the way to go. One of my favorite partners is the spicy jatropha, Jatropha integerrima. Another terrific combination would include Vermillionaire cuphea that has scarlet flowers and reaches about 3 feet tall and wide.

My one bone of contention with garden centers is that they usually do not have them available early enough in the planting season to allow time to grow them into eight-foot-plus range. Actually, they are now getting harder to find. Once you do start growing them, "you are in the business," because they produce long pods loaded with seeds. These dried seeds will give you the opportunity to grow them whenever you want. In recent years I have found seeds well priced via online shopping.

Once you start collecting seeds, store them in a dry location over the winter. Next spring, pop open the pods and plant the seeds about 3/4 of an inch deep in full sun in well-drained, well-prepared beds. I like to lightly scratch these seeds with sandpaper to help speed up my germination process. If you want to see yours reach that 8-foot monolithic stature feed monthly during the growing season. Even though they are considered drought tolerant plants, keeping them watered and mulched keeps them looking lush and ever so tropical for your little corner of paradise.

 

 


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