Welcome to my zone 9 garden. My roots are deeply planted in the sandy soil of sub-tropical central Florida, where the summers are long and hot, but the rest of the year is paradise!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Two years ago I purchased this Christmas senna a/k/a Christmas cassia or golden shower for two reasons...obviously for its beautiful blossoms, but also because it does double duty as a larval and host plant for Cloudless Sulphur butterflies. 

It did not disapoint me or the butterflies. For 12 months of the year (surprisingly it did not freeze last winter) the beautiful yellow sulpur butterflies hover all around this large shrub eating leaves and laying eggs. Large numbers of caterpillars can be found feasting on its leaves and flowers, and therein lies the problem when autumn rolls around.

Last year this time, I eagerly waited for the shower of yellow blossoms. I could picture what this shrub...which had grown larger than I expected...was going to look like, and I knew it was going to be fabulous. So, I eagerly waited...and waited...and waited.

When it didn't bloom, I took a closer look and realized that all those hungry little caterpillars were devouring the flowers, too. Yikes - I had no idea they ate the flowers! I fed it some bloom booster fertilizer hoping to encourage some more buds. As soon as those buds developed...the hungry little caterpillars feasted some more. As a gardener...who eagerly awaits 11 months for a plant to bloom...you know how disapointed I was. 

Well, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands. I love the Sulphurs and they are welcome to feast on this plant for 11 months out of the year, but for one month...I want to enjoy this plant. So, I hand-picked the caterpillars off...NO, I didn't destroy them...instead I placed them on the candlestick plant...another great host plant for them. YES, it was a lot of work...but it was worth it as you can see in the photo above.

By the way, did you know that the cats that feed on the leaves are green, while the ones that feed on the flowers are yellow? I read that on Grower Jim's blog...Garden Adventures (check out the photos of the caterpillars on his blog), and sure enough I had both colored cats on this plant.

Isn't it great what you learn from other gardeners?

Here's a close-up of the clusters of luscious yellow blossoms, and you can see there are still some buds to open. I go outside numerous times a day...don't laugh at me now...just to feast my eyes on this beauty, and then I just have to go over and touch the flowers, and tell the Senna just how gorgeous she looks. I know...I sound silly, but I've waited 2 years to see her loaded with blooms. A "real gardener" understands what I'm talking about. ;-)

After nurturing these buds along for two months, I only hope that all these blossoms won't be a distant memory after tonight's freeze. Oh well, for now I'll enjoy her spectacular display and then turn her back over to the Sulphur's.


FlowerLady said...

Oh my gosh, I can't believe the size of your cassia. What a beauty.

Boy is it ever windy and cold and getting colder too. Tonight we'll see if things are frosty down here.

Have a nice Christmas ~ FlowerLady

sanddune said...

I also have a Cassia Bush that blooms during the month of November as if on a schedule. You are right that the bush is always full of Sulfer butterflies. The birds like to hide in the tangled branches as it gives them a lot of safe shelter. It also attracts Iguana's who eat the leaves. I never give this one any fertilizer and it seems to do fine. Have a great Christmas.

Floridagirl said...

What a beautiful plant! My sister has a cassia tree as well. Anything that survived last winter's freezes is a plant I need! I saw one last month for sale at the farm supply store, but was afraid to plant it that close to winter. Guess I should've.

daisy said...

Absolutely breathtaking! I pray ole' Jack Frost doesn't rob you tonight of this beauty.
Laughing at you? I'd have done the same thing! I totally get you.

Love learning from all of my new-found gardening friends.
Stay toasty!

africanaussie said...

I enjoyed your story, and remember my mom saying - when you want to attract butterflies, you have to attract catterpillars. What a great idea to have another host plant nearby. It was definielty worth it - your bush looks magnificent

Susan said...

FlowerLady...She did grow considerably larger than I thought she would. I actually have had to lop off a few branches to keep them out of the driveway. Wishing you a very nice Christmas, too!

Sanddune...I can see how the birds would love the tangled branches. They don't seem to have a particular growth pattern...more willy nilly as they criss cross everywhere. Fortunately, we don't have any iguana's around here. I love the little lizards, but definitely don't want their bigger brethren in my garden.

FloridaGirl...I was surprised last year when the plant didn't freeze. It almost needs to, to keep it in bounds. We'll see what happens tonight, as it will be colder than last year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Hi Daisy...LOL. I knew there would be someone else who could relate to my experience. I'm hoping for the best tonight.

Hey AfricanNaussie...I thought you were away on vacation. It sounds like you have a very wise mother. Have a great trip.

NanaK said...

Oh my goodness, I'm not laughing at you. I'm going to copy you this next fall. My cassia was gorgeous last year and this year all I got were two clusters of blooms. The cats got everything else. Now, I have several candlestick cassias that hopefully will make it through winter and those babies are gonna be transferred. My cassia, which is only two years old, has been killed to the ground both winters but rebounded nicely.

Sure hope your garden does well through this most recent cold snap.

SiestaSister said...

I have a cassia bicapsularis and it had been trained as a tree. They have a very weak root system and it blew down last year. We tied it up and it remains tied. I think when it is finished blooming we will take the rope down and if it falls down I will shed a few tears because it is so beautiful every year when it blooms.

I have a couple growing in pots from seeds that dropped. Another problem with the one we have is that it is too close to the garage. So I plan on planting the new one farther from the garage. I am tempted to leave it as a bush instead of training it as a tree.

It is a spectacular tree (or bush) at this time of year. The sulfurs love it.

Susan said...

Hi NanaK...Oh, I see you had the same problem I had. Moving the cats works, but it does take some time. My candlestick rebounds every year, plus I get some new babies from seeds that have fallen to the ground. Stay warm!

Siesta Sister...This bush would be pretty as a tree. The intertwining branch system is baffling when I try to trim it up a bit. They shoot every which way. Sounds like a good idea to start a new one in a place where it has room to spread. It really is a great butterfly bush and absolutely stunning when it's in bloom. Hope your garden is doing okay in your neck of the woods.

Char's Gardening said...

I started a couple cassia cutting this fall. Right now they are in pots and doing well, I sure hope in a few years they are a gorgeous as yours!

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