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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Apple Blossom Cassia (Cassia javanica)

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

First impression: A large 40 foot-spreading crown that is bursting with extra long clusters of bubble gum pink, rosy apple red, and cream colored flowers. I detect a subtle but sweet fragrance in the air. Large soft, feather-like leaves all over that enhance the beauty of the blooms. Light grey bark on a large girthed trunk. Seed pods are dark brown and cigar shaped. Lots of large Orange Barred Sulphur butterflies fluttering all around it. Unique, exotic, and rarely seen here in paradise — in full fabulous bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Most of the 500 Cassia species are yellow flowered bloomers; the pinky hue makes this Cassia unique! Its blooms can be enjoyed non-stop spring thru summer. The petals of the flowers start out a dark red to soft pink and fade to white as they age. They cascade in a large spray of flowers about 10-15 inches long. These sprays are irregular and numerous. This color combo gave us its name of apple blossom, since it really reminds us of the apple orchards we left up north.

I detect a slight fragrance from the clusters of flowers, but nothing strong or recognizable.

Lots of large bright yellow Sulphur butterflies fluttering all around it. Cassias are their host plants — a.k.a. plants on which butterflies lay their eggs — adding to the dimensional beauty.

Our star is a large tree that can reach the height of 40 to 50 feet. It has a natural spreading crown which, from a distance, draws your eye to it. Even without blossoms, it’s an attractive tree with downy green, pinnate leaves contrasting with the light bark. The trunk is lovely cement colored grey and very smooth textured. I can’t help but notice the long, skinny brown seed pods all over that are about 10 to 15 inches in length. These seed pods have hundreds of seeds encased in them.

It is a semi-deciduous tree, drought tolerant, and does well in full sun. A non-native species, whose origin is Asia. Did you know that Apple blossom Cassia is widely distributed all over Southeast Asia? It is utilized as an ornamental and natural resource tree. Some of its many uses are dyeing, plus flavoring tobacco and making herbal medicines. We are fortunate to have one of the very few in the region; I have had many phone calls from plant collectors who go gaga over its rare beauty.

Pros: Huge flowers with lots of blossoms, drought tolerant, gorgeous when blooming, yellow Sulphur butterflies all around, easy to maintain/prune, you can start your own apple blossom festiva, full sun

Cons: Daily clean up, non-native status, re-think/tolerate caterpillars and nibbled leaves, loses limbs in strong winds, neighbors will be wondering where the apples are, sticky sap from seed pods.

Conclusion: How do you like them apples — Apple Blossom Cassia, that is. A great show stopper for a specimen tree in that eye-catching garden location. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!