Where does cinnamon come from? Most well-equipped cooks have a jar of the fragrant powder or raw sticks in the pantry, and many people use cinnamon sticks for cooking and crafts. If you've ever tried to break a cinnamon stick in half, and noticed how hard it is, you've had a peek at the dried bark of the cinnamon tree. Although cinnamon plants hail from the tropics, you can grow them at home for years with the right care.
- Botanical Name: Cinnamomum spp.
- Common Names: Ceylon cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon, cassia
- Plant Type: Evergreen tree
- Mature Size: 20 feet outdoors; three to eight feet in containers
- Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
- Soil Type: Rich, sandy loam
- Soil pH: Acidic to neutral; 6.2-7.2
- Bloom Time: Summer
- Flower Color: White
- Hardiness Zones: USDA growing zones 9-11
- Native Area: Southeast Asia
Caring for Cinnamon Plants
Cinnamon plants, which eventually mature into trees, are accustomed to a tropical habitat with warm or hot, muggy weather. The cinnamon tree is not a long-lived specimen, and averages about 10 years of life.
Cinnamon plants usually require full sun, but in very hot and dry weather, they benefit from some afternoon shade.
Cinnamon plants grow where a natural layer of leaf mold in the jungle keeps plants nourished. Good drainage is also important. Heavy clay or hardpan soils are not a recipe for success. If your soil is poor, consider container culture.
Cinnamon plants like the regular rainfall they receive in the jungle, so you should try to replicate this with irrigation when rain is scarce. Keep the surface of the soil moist, and use mulch to keep the roots cool and moist.
Temperature and Humidity
Cinnamon plants like it warm and humid. In their native habitat, temperatures that average 80 degrees Fahrenheit promote healthy growth over the life of a cinnamon plant.
Cinnamon plants are light feeders. You can place a handful of timed release fertilizer in the planting hole to help plants get established; they don't need further feeding.
Potting and Repotting
Start with a large container, at least 18 inches, to give your cinnamon plant room to grow and mature. Fill the pot with a lightweight loam. You can control the growth of your cinnamon plant by keeping it somewhat root bound. In indoor plant can remain in a 36-inch pot for the duration of its lifespan.
Propagating Cinnamon Plants
You can make new cinnamon plants from stem cuttings. Take a cutting and strip off all but a few leaves. Plant the cutting in moist potting soil, and keep it in a warm, partially sunny window. Cuttings are slow to take, and may not be ready to plant outdoors for several months.
Varieties of Cinnamon Plants
Cinnamon plants have the same growing requirement and appearance regardless of their species. Cinnamomum zeylanicum is often referred to as true cinnamon, and has the most clean and desirable flavor. Cinnamomum loureirii is widely coveted as a premium Saigon cinnamon from Vietnam. Cinnamomum burmannii is the most common cinnamon in the grocery store. Cinnamomum verum is also known as Ceylon cinnamon.
Toxicity of Cinnamon Plants
Cinnamon is non-toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Cinnamon plants don't need much pruning. You can remove branches to achieve a symmetrical shape, or to remove damaged branches.
A vigorous three-year old cinnamon plant is ready to harvest. Cut off individual branches, or cut the entire tree at the trunk. (Trees growing in the ground may produce new shoots that will become a new tree). Scrape away the outer bark until you see the yellowish-orange layer beneath, which is the cinnamon. Peel strips of this cinnamon layer with a sharp knife. The pieces must dry for about a week, and they will curl into the typical shape you see in stores as they dry.
Being Grown in Containers
Growing cinnamon plants in containers is the way to do it for gardeners living north of the tropics. Cinnamon trees can be kept to a smaller size in container culture, yet can still yield their fragrant cinnamon bark after a few years. Give plants a summer vacation outdoors to give growth a boost. Keep them in a south-facing window in the winter months, and mist to boost humidity.
Growing From Seeds
Birds relish the fruits of the cinnamon tree, but if you're able to save some, you can start new plants from seed. Clean the pulp of the berries away from the seeds, and dry them thoroughly. Plant the seeds while fresh, as they lose viability quickly. Plant the seeds about an inch deep in pots filled with sterile potting soil. Keep moist and warm, at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Germination occurs in about three weeks.
Fungal diseases can affect cinnamon plants growing under stress in excessively wet or shady conditions. Many of the insect pests that affect cinnamon plants, like the cinnamon butterfly and cinnamon gall mite, are not present outside of the tropics. Leafminers can also infect cinnamon plants, causing leaf drop. Apply insecticide as directed if the infestation is severe.
Cinnamon Plant vs. Allspice Plant
Ground allspice has an aroma similar to cinnamon, and allspice plants (Pimenta officinalis) grow in tropical areas of the world just as cinnamon does. One key difference between the plants is the way allspice is harvested: we eat the dried and ground berries of the allspice plant, whereas cinnamon berries are not edible. The leaves of the allspice plant also contain the spicy aroma, and can be added to soups and stews the same way bay leaves are used. Those who live in frost-free zones may grow a spice grove of cinnamon plants and allspice plants, as both love the same warm temperatures and sunny exposure.