I should have realized that gardening was going to be an important part of my adult life as I stood in front of a candlestick tree as a child at the State Fair of Texas. I stood staring at this beautiful, tropical-looking plant with a corn dog in one hand, cotton candy in another and a lizard on a string “leash” pinned to my shirt. (As far as the lizard is concerned, I feel compelled to quote Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”!!!).
Years went by and I didn’t give that fabulous plant a thought until I volunteered as a docent for one of the first Master Gardener fall garden tours. I spent several hours at Kay Passmore’s garden that day and found myself staring at the candlestick tree again. She had many in her yard and commented that they reseed freely.
For the past couple of years, we have been planting candlestick trees in the courtyard at Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church. At this very moment, there is a big candlestick tree in the courtyard that just starting blooming. Every time I work in the courtyard, I find myself standing and staring at this awesome plant, but without the corn dog (vegetarian now) and cotton candy (yikes!). And, thank goodness, the only lizards in the vicinity are the ones running freely in our garden rather than pinned to my shirt (what were we thinking?)!!!
The candlestick tree (Cassia alata) is native to Central and South America. It is an annual in Dallas and grows easily from seed. It is best to soak the seeds in water overnight and then plant them directly in the ground in full sun after the danger of frost has passed. It can grow from 6 to 15 feet in a season and it blooms late summer to fall. It is a drought tolerant plant and it attracts pollinators to the garden. Another fun fact about this plant is that the leaves fold up at night.
Next time you’re at the garden, take the time to check out this plant. Or make a special trip to the courtyard just to see it – it will be worth your effort!
If you have never grown this plant, I strongly suggest you try one next spring. Hopefully, we’ll have some seeds to share by then!
Jackie James, Master Gardner class of 1993
Pictures by Starla Willis