Excerpted from Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere, by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. Martin, with permissions from Storey Publishing (c) 2010. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 118 to 119. To read the main article about growing other tropical wonders, visit Growing Tasty Tropical Herbs.
• Cinnamomum zeylanicum
• sin-uh-MOH-mum zey-LAN-ee-kum
Cinnamon is well known for its culinary uses, yet it is hardly ever grown in ordinary home settings. It’s easy to grow, however. As long as the soil is kept slightly dry, a potted cinnamon plant can thrive for years without special care. You can keep the plants as small as 3 feet by pruning regularly, or you can repot them over time into a 12- to 14- inch pot and allow them to reach up to 8 feet tall.
The leathery, rich reddish bronze juvenile growth provides a nice contrast to the dark green mature leaves. (However, mature leaves will remain light green if plants are kept in high light.) Sprays of small white flowers appear in summer. The purplish black berries are inedible; it’s the bark that is harvested for its culinary qualities.
Both the stem and bark are highly aromatic, and it’s the inner bark that is used as a spice. Even small stems can be scratched to release a rich cinnamon fragrance. True cinnamon is often confused with cassia, also known as Chinese or Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia). Although the latter is more common in the United States as a spice and is often offered for sale as true cinnamon, it’s not as aromatic, and it has a stronger, more assertive flavor. True cinnamon (C. zeylanicum) can be grown from seed, vegetative cuttings, or grafts, but it is more difficult to propagate vegetatively than cassia.
On occasion, cinnamon produces seeds, which can be picked and planted. These seeds must be picked when ripe (black in color) and planted right away because seed viability is limited.
SIZE AND FORM: 3 to 8 feet depending on pruning and container size; shrub
BLOOM SEASON: Spring to summer
FRUITING SEASON: Grown for its bark
ORIGIN: Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and southwest India
LIGHT: Full to partial sun
SOIL: Well-drained, acidic potting mix (half sphagnum moss and half perlite)
MINIMUM INDOOR TEMPERATURE: 60 degrees
HARDINESS OUTDOORS: Zone 10; protect from frost
FERTILIZING: Moderate feeder; fertilize weekly or biweekly, but only during active growth (late winter until fall).
PRUNING: Prune at any time for harvest or to prevent plants from becoming too tall or wide.
FOLIAR DISEASE: Not susceptible; leaf edges turn brown if salt (fertilizer) levels get too high
ROOT DISEASE: Susceptible to root rot if not kept on the dry side
Harvesting Cinnamon Sticks
Cinnamon sticks are simply dried bark from a mature cinnamon plant; you can easily harvest your own. Commercial cinnamon is cut into uniform lengths and graded according to thickness, aroma, and appearance. Stems are continually cut back to stimulate new stem growth for harvesting. Some recipes call for mature wood; others call for young whips (stems). We like using the young whips because they are more fragrant and seem to hold their aromatic properties better than the older wood. Try both to see which you prefer.
Harvesting bark from young whips. Cut the whips into 3-inch segments. Score the bark lengthwise from end to end, cutting just deep enough to loosen the bark. Peel off the bark, which will naturally curl. Dry in an open, airy, warm spot such as on a kitchen counter. For a thicker, compact stick, layer the bark pieces inside one another before drying. Once dried, the sticks can be shaved for the spice or used in a mulling mix.
Harvesting outer bark of mature wood. Cut stems into 3-inch segments. Make a lengthwise slice halfway into the stem, but do not go all the way through. The bark will not peel as easily as it does from a younger stem. Instead, scrape out the core and pithy inner lining, then allow the remaining bark to dry completely. You can layer several pieces of bark together to produce a thicker stick called a quill.
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