Plant that smells like buttered popcorn offered at Great Plant Sale

Cassia didmobotrya flower
When you rub the leaves of Cassia didmobotrya, you get the scent of buttered popcorn. Photo courtesy Annie’s Annuals & Perennials

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“I’m pretty excited about this plant,” said Kristin Pochopin, director of Horticulture at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

She was referring to an annual called Cassia didmobotrya, whose unique feature is that when you rub the leaves, it smells like buttered popcorn. The scent is most noticeable in late summer and early fall.

Popochin was familiar with this plant when she worked for a wholesale grower in Pennsylvania, but hasn’t seen it much in our area.

It’s one of the cool plants that you can buy in the pre-order portion of the Great Plant Sale, held by the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

“We’re always looking for something different,” Popochin said. “That’s why I have help from our volunteers planning this sale. They have a different perspective, they’re out there shopping a lot, they know what’s different and what they haven’t seen.”

The deadline for pre-orders is Monday, April 9. Don’t wait until the last minute; some items can sell out quickly.

You can order online. The plants aren’t shipped; you’ll pick them up at the Great Plant Sale, which will be held 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, May 18  and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 19. The plants on this list are available through pre-order only.

Members get 10 percent off the pre-ordered plants. You can become a member here.

Additional plants will be available on the days of the Great Plant Sale. This year three kinds of ginko will be offered: a weeping variety called ‘Weeping Wonder’, a variegated variety called ‘Snow Cloud’, and a slow-growing dwarf variety called ‘Jade Butterfly’.  It will grow only four to six feet in the first 10 years, so it’s excellent for small areas in your landscape.

Those plants and many others will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Members and volunteers get an opportunity to shop first from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 17. This is one of the many perks you get when you become a member.

Here is a glimpse of what is available by pre-order only. See the entire list here.

Cassia didmobotrya

As we said earlier, the leaves of the Cassia didmobotrya smell like buttered popcorn. Although you can’t eat it, it can be an impressive ornamental plant in your garden. In our area, we use it as an annual.

Tall plants can add interest to your yard, and Cassia didmobotrya can get around six feet tall. It’s easy to grow, but it needs a sunny location where it has support and room to reach its full height.

The flowers are attractive, too. It gets clusters of bright yellow, showy flowers. The buds are black, which provide an interesting contrast.

For the sale, this plant will be grown in a larger, four-inch pot, so it should be a nice size when you get it, Popochin said.

She remembers that her young nephews liked this plant because of the popcorn aroma.

“It’s hard sometimes to engage children with plants,” Popochin said, “but if you find something about the plant that they’re familiar with, it resonates with them.”

Ratibida columnifera ‘Red Midget’
Ratibida columnifera ‘Red Midget’ is sometimes called the Mexican hat flower because the flowers resemble Mexican sombreros. Photo courtesy North Creek Nurseries

Ratibida columnifera ‘Red Midget’

This perennial plant, commonly called a long-headed prairie coneflower, is native to the prairies. ‘Red Midget’ is a dwarf variety, and it can grow from one to three feet tall.

Another common name for this plant is Mexican hat flower because of the flower’s resemblance to a Mexican sombrero.

It tolerates drought well.

The foliage has a strong odor that repels deer, but deer may eat the flower.

Veronia Southern Cross
Photo courtesy Walters Gardens, Inc


Veronia ‘Southern Cross’

If you have some shade, try the perennial Veronia ‘Southern Cross’.

Veronia is native to North America, but ‘Southern Cross’ is a hybrid.

It gets bright purple blooms in late summer and attracts butterflies.

It’s bushy, growing about three feet high and three feet wide.

A common name is ironweed– it’s hard as iron with coarse foliage and tough stems. That makes it deer and rabbit resistant.

It can spread, which may appeal to some gardeners, but if you don’t want it to get out of hand, remove the seed heads.

See all the pre-order choices here.

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