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.