When a Corn Plant Blooms

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Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’). Photo: Costa Farms

The corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is a popular houseplant, cultivated for its beautiful growth habit – an erect trunk with arching lanceolate leaves, each a with broad yellow to pale green band in center in the case of the most popular cultivar, D. fragrans ‘Massangeana’ – and its surprising ability to resist almost any combination of indoor growing conditions, from full sun to shade.

The corn plant is a “survivor”, able to tolerate the worst kind of neglect. It is, in fact, nearly unkillable! That’s why it’s not unusual to see specimens that are 10, 20 or even 40 years old: a very rare situation indeed for a houseplant!

On the other hand, the corn plant is universally considered a foliage plant, cultivated solely for its attractive leaves. But sometimes it offers you a surprise.

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Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’) in bud. The flowers actually open at night.

Yes, from time to time, perhaps only after decades of cultivation, it flowers, producing arching  terminal panicle of pinkish buds that open into masses of white flowers. They only open in the evening and at night, but then, what a perfume they give off! Intense, heady, sweet, the fragrance invades the whole house. It is so intense that it sometimes becomes intolerable and the owner feels obliged to cut the flower stem off or to stick the plant in a spare bedroom and close the door at night.

A Personal Anecdote

Back in 1984, I was working in a 5-story office building in the Old Port. One evening I stayed on a bit later than usual, then, shortly after 6 pm, an extraordinary perfume began wafting into my office. What was it? I set off in search of the source of the incredible fragrance, finally to find discover it 3 floors below, in the building’s lobby: a corn plant in full bloom. Imagine, blooms so intensely fragrant that they can fill an entire 5-story building with their scent!

Patience Will Be Rewarded

If you want to experience the corn plant’s extraordinary fragrance, buy one… and wait patiently! No one knows what causes this plant to bloom and it can take place in any season, but almost inevitably it occurs only after several to many years. The chances yours will bloom are much, much better, though, if you place it in good light rather than the “dark corner” to which this plant is usually relegated.

Best of luck!

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