Plant Profile: Popcorn Plant

Smells are powerful, and the scent of popcorn plant (Senna didymobotrya) will bring you right back to the movie theaters of your childhood. This plant, which is also called cassia, smells so much like buttered popcorn that you’ll swear it is a relative of corn.

popcorn plant flower

The blooms of popcorn plant look a bit like popcorn but the scent comes from the leaves.

It’s not, though. Popcorn plant is a member of the legume family and is native to tropical sections of Africa. For northern gardeners, this is an unusual and fun annual plant, and is especially popular with children. The scent emanates not from the blooms, but from the leaves, which run in pairs up and down the branches. Leaves can be up to 3 inches long with a dozen or more pairs along each branch. To bring out the popcorn smell, just run your fingers along the leaves and then smell them. If the smell is not enough, the blooms of the plant look like unusual popcorn ears and each bright yellow bud resembles popped corn.

In its native habitat, popcorn plant is a shrub, growing 10 to 25 feet tall. Here, it will typically stay between 2 and 3 feet tall after a season of growing with the blooms rising tall and straight above the leaves. Popcorn plant grows well in containers, and while it is not difficult to grow, it has its demands. The plant loves hot, humid weather (it comes from the tropics, so that makes sense) and it likes lots of sun, water and fertilizer. If you grow it in a container, plan to water daily and fertilize on a regular schedule for best growth. Popcorn plant typically flowers in late summer into fall.

Some gardeners bring plants indoors for winter, storing them in greenhouses to get them through to next spring. While it can be grown from seed, most home gardeners buy it as a start in the spring and treat popcorn plant as an annual.

One important thing to remember: Popcorn plant is poisonous. So, if you have pets who nibble on plants or small children, this might be a plant to avoid.

Have you ever grown popcorn plant?

popcorn plant leaves

The leaves of popcorn plant have an intriguing shape and they smell just like popcorn.

 

13 Comments

  1. Meem on March 17, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Yes. I have grown them for years.. I always worry that Bachman’s will not have them..love that plant so does everyone that comes to my garden. I live near Lake Nokomis ..they grow well for me

    • Beth Bodchon on May 17, 2019 at 7:09 pm

      Hi meem, no worries . .u can order the seeds online. I did:)

  2. Dr Pelz on May 22, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    I just planted two popcorn Cassia plants today, between the Datura in the back of my Eagan garden. Our deer and bunnies will know better than to visit.

  3. Kathie from St Paul on May 29, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    can I grow this in St Paul MN

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 29, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      Yes, you can. We grow it at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s beautiful in late summer.

  4. David White on June 11, 2019 at 11:02 pm

    My container popcorn plant has black spots on the leaves. I’ve treated with neem oil and prune leaves but it’s still getting black spots! Help! In N.C.

  5. Cindy on July 1, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Do you cut off the stem of flowers after the are done flowering

  6. Terri Leffel on July 2, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Do I cut the blooms out to make new blooms?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on July 2, 2019 at 10:46 pm

      Yes, you can do that.

  7. Susan on August 15, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    My plant has branches without leaves. Can I cut them off? It’s 3’ tall. I read to bring it in in the winter, I should cut it back to 1/2 it’s height. Has anyone ever done this?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 19, 2019 at 2:44 pm

      Yes, you can cut off branches without leaves. I’ve never heard of people overwintering popcorn plant, but it’s worth a try.

  8. Marian on August 21, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I read that it is invasive in some states. What about Oklahoma?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 21, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      Popcorn plant has been somewhat invasive in Africa, which is its native range. It’s classified as a USDA Zone 9 plant, so it would be considered an annual in Oklahoma. Thanks for commenting!

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