It hasn’t escaped my notice that with the rains this week came lower temperatures, and lower temperatures mean fall is just around the corner, right? Ha! If only that were true.
Nonetheless, the cooler weather turned my thoughts to fall. I have begun daydreaming about (instead of dreading) my garden again.
I imagine my roses will burst into bloom and put on a dandy show. I expect my hydrangeas will no longer wilt piteously every day, and instead will look healthy again. What else, I wondered, might I look forward to in the garden?
The answer is cassias.
According to horticulturist Allen Owings, of the LSU AgCenter, these are some of the most prolific fall bloomers in our region and come in several varieties that can be worked into almost any garden design as long as you like their golden yellow blossoms.
Owings reported that cassias were recently reclassified as sennas, though he expects the common name for them won’t change.
The most stunning of the group may be Cassia splendida, which can be easily trained into a small 10- to 13-foot-tall tree in our region. Every fall, beginning in September and continuing well into November, the trees are covered with clusters of golden pea-like blossoms borne on arching.
The plants require little in the way of care, as long as they are in full to partial sun. Only the coldest of winter temperatures will harm them and, once established, they can tolerate drought conditions well.
The blossoms of Cassia corymbosa looks very much like those of C. splendida, but it develops as a low-growing shrub rather than a specimen that can be trained into a tree. Blossoms attract bees and cassias are host plants for butterflies, including cloudless sulphur and orange-barred sulphur butterflies.
Cassia alata, or candlestick plant, is another Gulf Coast favorite. On these shrubs, stiff spikes of golden flowers are held high above the foliage, and reach straight up toward the sky. This cassia can grow 6 to 10 feet tall and is therefore most often used in the back of a border.
The candlestick cassia (or candelabra plant) is also the least cold-hardy of the group. In some places across the globe, C. alata is cultivated for medicinal uses because of the fungicidal property of its ground-up leaves. A less flattering name for the plant is ringworm shrub.
When considering what plants to mix in with cassias, consider those with blooms in the blue, purple and white ranges. The purple blooms of Tibouchina (also known as Glory Flower) and the plant’s fuzzy leaves contrast handsomely with the blooms and leaves of cassias.
Another plant, Duranta or Golden Dewdrops, puts out clusters of blue, purple or white blossoms on the end of arching stems. Its flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Durantas are especially interesting because their blooms are followed by small yellow fruit that is adored by deer and songbirds.
A third plant that will bloom summer through fall and complements cassias well is plumbago. Like Duranta, its blooms come in shades of blue or even white, making a great companion for whichever cassia appears in the garden.