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.

 

46 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:)

      • Faye McDougall on April 27, 2021 at 11:00 pm

        Hi Beth where can I order seeds? I have been on the search for a popcorn plant.

  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.

    • Jennifer on May 15, 2021 at 5:37 pm

      I live in Ohio if I plant outside how well will it likelycome.up every year?

      • Mary Lahr Schier on May 17, 2021 at 7:55 pm

        It’s hardy in zones 9, 10 and 11 — so the far south. It’s an annual here in Minnesota and probably in your area as well.

  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.

    • Barb on July 6, 2020 at 8:36 pm

      maybe due to watering on cloudy days or late in the day/evening.

  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!

    • Brenda long on November 17, 2020 at 8:37 pm

      Hello I have a popcorn plant outside that is very tall and I am afraid it mite die due to the cold I thinks its too tall and big to bring inside dont have a pot big enough to hold it. Its starting to get cold out here I am in Maryland please help me save my plant.what do I do

  9. Jane Hain on September 16, 2019 at 5:43 am

    It is now Sept and the popcorn plant never bloomed but is 5ft tall, plenty of sun and water. Any ideas why no blooms.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on September 16, 2019 at 2:04 pm

      I’m not sure why it would not bloom. This summer has been cooler and much wetter than normal. Because it’s a tropical plant, I don’t think the wetness bothers popcorn plant, but the relatively cool temperatures might. Luckily, the scent (my favorite part of the plant) is on the leaves.

      • Jeff S. on May 15, 2020 at 12:53 am

        First time grower in Kentucky and mine didn’t bloom last year, but I kept it in a pot and placed it under a plant light over the winter. Just put it in the ground today as it has started to flower and is over 3 feet tall.

      • Kristin Pochopin on January 13, 2021 at 3:45 am

        I have collected a bunch of seed from my plant. I tried to get them to germinate but was not successful. I did soak them. I have more to try but wondered if you had any other tips.
        Thank you!

  10. gwen vogt on September 24, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I’m from the Rapid City, SD area and this was my first year of growing a popcorn plant. Mine didn’t bloom either, but enjoyed the smell, also my neighbors.

  11. nancy potteiger on October 4, 2019 at 12:26 am

    I just brought in my popcorn plant ( first time owner). I understand that It is poisonous. I have a cat that likes to “check” out plants. How do protect her from the plant

  12. nancy potteiger on October 4, 2019 at 2:51 am

    I just found out about the plant being poisonous by reading your website. The tag and sell didn’t say the seller didn’t know. I have several other plants including a Bonsi plant (tea tree ) which she checked out now leaves alone. But I am still concerned!

  13. Roxanne Lynnes on October 6, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    I bought a couple of these plants and had a great experience in pots over the summer. One very interesting thing happened – quite a few times I had female orioles on my deck picking on the brown flower pods….I’m not sure why and hope it’s not poisonous for them ? It was fun to watch but not sure what the attraction was…. there was no seed for them..? I live in ND, bought these plants at Bachman’s and will try to overwinter them just for fun!

  14. Sharon Chick Master Gardener. on May 8, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    This will be my first try with the popcorn plant. Saw first one at the gardens in Madison, wi. The smell of popcorn led me to it.

  15. Barbara Frank on May 16, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    Where can I purchase plant in mpls area

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 16, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      I’ve seen them at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis, but they would be at many garden center. You may want to call ahead to ensure they have them.

  16. Laura Martin on June 5, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Why don’t my leaves smell? The stem has a faint scent. But nothing from the leaves!

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 9, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      Laura — Perceptions of the smell vary from person to person — some people think the plant smells like a wet dog, for instance. Perhaps the plant will develop more of a scent as the year goes on.

    • Peg on October 31, 2020 at 1:41 pm

      You have to run your fingers over the leaves to release the scent.

  17. Craig Clark on June 18, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    Our Popcorn plant just started to bloom. Looks very cool, real right yellow! This is the first year I’ve noticed the plant at the west Michigan garden centers.

  18. Jeff on June 21, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    How long does it take the seeds to germinate?

  19. Lisa Stein on July 2, 2020 at 12:46 am

    My first popcorn plant. Bought it at 4 “, it’s 3 ft tall now. I live in south Jersey. It looks like a beautiful corn plant now, but from what I am reading, it will soon have yellow flowers and kernels. This is what I was curious about. When and where the kernels develop?
    My husband x fertilized this year and I added sprinkle miracle grow. It’s also been very humid and plenty hot weather.
    Those seem like the 3 requirements, and water. I can’t wait to see what happens. My daughter- in law, and granddaughter touched it,
    So I said, wash hands, but apparently , u can’t ” eat” green parts, so it’s ok .

    Any more info would be great

    Thank you, Lisa stein west creek, nj

  20. Diane on July 21, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    I love popcorn cassia for it’s scent and unique growth habit. It’s easy to grow from seed but my plants don’t produce many seed pods. I have beautiful foliage and flowers all summer long. Plenty of water and fertilizer. My small back yard gets plenty of sun and heat that it loves. Any ideas?

    • Patti on June 6, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      Did you plant in the ground or container? If in ground will it come back next year?

      • Mary Lahr Schier on June 7, 2021 at 6:43 pm

        In ground at our State Fair garden and it will not come back. It’s an annual in Minnesota.

  21. John on September 6, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Anyone have luck with propagation from cuttings?

  22. Beth on September 13, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    This unique beautiful plant has been the highlight of my summer garden! ($1.78 for a small pot before the greenhouse closed) Everyone is amazed by the delicious buttered-popcorn smell! It’s been fun to watch the leaves close in the evening (like the “prayer plant”) or when it wants water.… So I think this plant can talk too!

  23. Sheila Braund on September 25, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    Hi we live in southern Ontario, Canada.
    We’re given a popcorn plant and it’s done very well. My question is has anyone tried cutting it back in the fall and covering it up to see if it will come back in the spring/summer next year?

    • Mandy H. on October 28, 2020 at 1:56 am

      Hi Sheila! I grew one last year in a flower pot and then tried to save it through winter in a small greenhouse. It did not make it, it’s such a tender plant when it comes to cold temps. When it got down to 35 degrees that’s when it started to look pretty rough. This year I have two more that I grew again in flower pots, both grew to 8ft tall and I have brought them into our garage for the winter. They are in a protected place. They have started to lose their leaves, which they say is normal, just cut back on the watering slightly as it goes dormant for the winter. Then water sparingly. So long as the stems stay green and pliable, it’s alive and can be brought out in the spring when temps warm up again. Keep in a shaded place when temps are warmer during the day, then bring back in at night if they drop below 40 degrees. It will send out new shoots of leaves and you can start to move it back into the sun. With regular watering and fertilizer, it will be blooming soon after. Both popcorn plants have done very well in the garage when we hit cold temps this last week. Hope this helps and hope yours makes it through the winter months! 🙂

      • Annie G on December 2, 2020 at 12:12 am

        Have you ever cut yours down? Mine is about 6 feet tall right now, but there is a lot of stem/trunk to it. I have a new shoot coming off of the bottom as well. I am wondering if I should transplant that shoot or leave it? My huge pot doesn’t hardly seem huge enough anymore.

  24. Linda E. KLINGINSMITH on April 19, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    Can you be allergic to this plant? The smell is overpowering and will have to move it out of my sewing room…makes me sneeze and my throat tingle.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on April 20, 2021 at 2:59 pm

      Yes, it’s always possible to be allergic to a plant. In Minnesota, popcorn plant is usually grown outside in summer. Having it in a closed space might be why you are reacting. Hope you feel better soon!

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