Popcorn, Anyone?

Oct 13, 2017

Have you ever been driving down the road, minding your own business, when something catches your attention? SCREECH! Goes the car as you slam on the brakes. You’ve just seen a plant that you’ve heard about for years, but up until now, never seen it in person.

This happened to me one day.

Maybe only a serious plantaholic could ever admit to almost running off the road after seeing a plant that they’ve been searching for. Searching actually under-represents what I’ve been doing. I’ve been hunting: scouring the internet for that very plant, with little success.

To see it in my hometown after searching for so long was like seeing someone you know at the house next door, only to find out that they’ve been living there for years.

I was incredulous.

And then I did it.

I walked up to the house whose yard the plant was growing in and knocked. Afterward, I was surprised that I had the courage to do it, but at the time, I didn’t care. An older man opened the door. He was very friendly, and after talking with him for a while, I found out that he was an avid gardener and lifelong plant enthusiast. When I mentioned the plant that I liked, he offered me a young seedling of it! After a few more minutes of pleasant conversation, I went on my way, and he went to work in the garden.

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All that to say, I finally had the plant that would form the centerpiece of my tropical garden: the Popcorn Plant, Senna alata.

This Mexican native is a showstopper for the fall garden. The flowers resemble popcorn slipped on a skewer and painted the brightest shade of yellow, almost golden. Its long, pinnate leaves serve as a reminder that it’s a legume.  The plant itself can reach almost eight feet in height by the end of the summer from seed! Sadly, the deer browsed mine while it was still young, resulting in the still-impressive height of six feet.


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<< Closeup of Leaves

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In other words, a showstopper!

Do you still think that I was crazy for almost running off the road at the sight of it?

It is tolerant of almost any soil type, excelling in both drought and wet, rainy periods. I have mine in part-sun, receiving afternoon shade by the big oak tree to its west. As long as it’s not in full shade, the Popcorn Plant is happy.

What amazed me most (besides its unreal flowers) is its growth rate. It was a foot tall when I first planted it in May, growing an incredible five feet in just four short months. I could go away for a week-long trip and find it had grown six inches just in the time I was gone!


Unfortunately, it has limited hardiness. It is easy enough to start from seed saved from the previous year though, so I should never run out of new plants. If I do, I can always go on a drive and start the search again.


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  1. shiner says:

    I am delighted that reading the Away to Garden blog, Margret Roach introduced us to your site.
    Have signed up for your monthly newsletter and look forward to your adventure stories.

    I have a wabi sabi type of garden and have to admit I am gardening obsessed. I would rather but a new plant than go out to dinner any time:)

    Asheville NC ~ Zone 7A

  2. LaLennoxa says:

    Love this story! Absolutely what I would have done (and have done). Gardeners are such sharing people.


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