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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cassia



My Cassia shrub has suddenly started blooming like crazy!

 Keeping a nature journal and the subsequent quest for deeper knowledge led me to discover that this native is not as advertised!  I planted this about two years ago, and was thrilled to see it covered with flowers this fall.  The butterflies and caterpillars love it, and the bright yellow buds and blooms all over this five-foot rambling shrub lighten the heart. 

The right-side-up view.
As always when I sketch something, I start wondering about it.  I wondered what kind of caterpillars were on it – I was used to seeing the green caterpillars of sulphur butterflies, not these bright yellow creatures.  One thing led to another, and as I read more in depth about this shrub, I realized that I probably purchased one of the non-native Cassias.  After much reading, counting leaves, and comparing leaf shapes, I’m sure of it.  Apparently mislabeling happens quite often with some species, especially this one.

According to my reading, the Florida native is Senna mexicana var. chapmanii, and I believe the one I have is Senna pendula, which is discouraged as it can become invasive.  Yikes!   But it’s so beautiful…

A side view of the bloom.
Cassias go by many common names: Yellow Candlewood, Rambling Senna, Christmas Senna, Golden Shower, Christmas Cassia, and Bahama Cassia, and (of all things) the Scrambled-egg Tree.  The terms "cassia" and "senna" are often used interchangeably, since these plants were once classified under the genus Cassia.  They reside in the very large bean family, Fabaceae (also Leguminosae), which is the third largest plant family in species behind the orchid and aster families.  The bean family contains immensely important species used by humans for millennia for food, forage, fertilizer, flowers, and clothing dyes. 

Its yellow color is related to diet.
Cassias also provide larval and nectar food for several species of sulphur butterflies in Florida: the Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Orange-barred Sulphur.  The caterpillar I found munching away is an Orange-barred Sulphur, and interestingly enough, its yellow color derives from eating the bright yellow Cassia buds and flowers! 



The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

For more online reading:
Floridata on the Cassia species I believe I have. 
From Heuristron, Orange-barred Sulphur emerging from its chrysalis.
Fact sheet on another non-native Cassia from the University of Florida IFAS Extension