I discovered the National Tropical Botanical Garden website. I thought it was a Malaysian website, since the heading was “Featured Plants of the Kampong”, kampong is a Malaysian word for village, and it describes the use of Senna alata to treat ringworm in Malaysia. When I checked to see exactly where it is located, it is in Hawaii and here in Florida, not in Malaysia after all.
I grow candlestick (sometime called Cassia alata) because I like the yellow flowers and because it is good for the sulfur butterflies. It is interesting to know about the medicinal possibilities also.
Although frequently planted in warm climates for its ornamental and drought-resistant qualities, candlestick senna is valued as a medicinal plant for the treatment of skin diseases, including ringworm, hence its alternate common name, ringworm senna. In Malayasia, for example, fresh leaves are rubbed directly onto the affected area. Its roots, flowers, and seeds are also prescribed in traditional medicine remedies. Scientific studies have shown the plant to exhibit some antimicrobial activity.
Last summer I planted three Cassia alata seedlings that I received from Meem’s garden. I love their cheery yellow blooms and the yellow sulfur butterflies that are attracted to the plants. All three plants died back to their roots during the winter due to the frosts. I wondered if they would come back again this year and they did – wow did they come back! Only two of the original survived but they are sprawling across my front garden. The 30 inch long pinnate leaves provide shade and a tropical splash of green which I love as much as the waxy yellow flowers.
Floridata.com says the plants grows well in normal garden soil. I have done very little to improve or amend the soil in my garden, but the corner where the Cassia are growing has some mulch from the leaves of neighborhood trees mixed with the native sandy soil. When I investigated to see why one of the plants didn’t survive the winter frosts, I discovered a plastic tray buried about 2 feet below the roots. The tray was the remains of an old in-ground watering system that I hadn’t known was there. The roots of the plant had spread out just under the surface of the soil rather than growing more deeply into the soil where the plastic tray was. I believe that since the roots of the plant were close to the surface that they were killed by frost so they couldn’t grow again in the spring. The plants are drought tolerant. It was a dry summer but the dry soil conditions didn’t seem to affect the plants or slow their growth. I hope I have them in my garden for many years to come.
This plant is sometime classified as Senna alata also. Common names for it include autumn candle and Christmas candle.
My garden grows but without much help from me. Teaching full-time doesn’t leave me time to work in the garden during the week and various events have kept me out of the garden on weekends. Today I managed to get out briefly to weed and to take a few photos. I am especially pleased with the Cassia alata (also called Sena alata). I wasn’t sure if they would bloom this year, since they were only planted early this summer. In spite of my lack of attention and care, they now grace the front yard with lovely yellow candlestick-shaped flowers. What cheerful and easy-to-manage plants they are. The lovely sulfur butterflies fluttering around them add to their charm and beauty.
My candlestick plants are from Meem’s garden at Hoe and Shovel. When I got them they were tiny seedlings in a pot. I planted them and have watched them grow over the summer. Long before they are mature plants, they are hosts to the ravenous sulfur butterfly larvae. With the almost-daily rain of the last two weeks they are growing inches every day. I don’t know if mine will bloom this year or if I will have to wait until next year, but I’m hoping for a few blooms this year. When I was in Meem’s garden two weeks ago, I saw hers in full bloom. They really look like candlesticks, don’t they? Meems said that seeds from the flowers will drop and grow, so hopefully I’ll have a dense cluster of candlesticks in a few years.
Note: The photo above is from Meem’s garden not mine.
My candlestick plants, Cassia alata, are growing but at different rates. All three were only a few inches tall when I planted them in the ground. Now one of them is 10 inches (25 cm) but the other two are already 2.5 ft. (76 cm). I got them from Meems @ Hoe and Shovel. All should be getting the same amount of sun and moisture from the irrigation system and rainfall. Meems started them from seed, so that might explain the difference since the purpose of seed production is to provide variation within a species. The two larger plants have several holes in the leaves where the cloudless sulfur larvae are hungrily feeding. I wonder if the slower growing plant isn’t as tasty or if it was judged not nutritious enough for the larvae. Maybe in the end, the smaller one will last longer because it has fewer larvae eating the leaves.
The cloudless sulfur butterflies aren’t as dramatic looking as monarchs, swallowtails or gulf fritillaries, but they are large with a wingspan of about 2 inches (5 cm). It is interesting to see the pale yellow butterflies fluttering above the Cassia plants as they search for the perfect leaves for their eggs, so the larvae have the correct food source as they grow. One of my garden goals is to provide for the butterflies. I don’t have as much plant variety as I want yet, but lantana, firebush, and milkweed provide nectar for some types of butterflies, and that means accepting that larvae will eat their way through some of the leaves. We’ll see how much damage they do, but having the dancing, fluttering adults in the garden seems well worth a few holes in the leaves.