How to grow candle bush, aka akapulko, in five easy steps

Photo by Tejas Prajapati from Shutterstock


Many gardeners have shown an affinity for growing rare ornamental plants that have been gaining popularity from all around the world. But some look no further than their backyard and other local settings to find a suitable plant that they can grow and benefit from. 

An example of an ornamental plant that bears medicinal properties is the candle bush plant (Senna alata). Locally known as akapulko, it is abundant throughout the Philippines in settled areas at low and medium altitudes. 

The plant is characterized by its upright stalk that bears yellow flowers at the end which resemble a candlestick, hence the name. Candle bush plants can grow to a height of twelve feet and is drought-tolerant and weather tough, making them an ideal plant for novice and experienced gardeners alike. 

Here are five steps on how to grow the striking and beneficial plant. 

Step 1: Choose a location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil since these are the basic requirements for candle bush growth. Candle bush plants tolerate partial shade but don’t thrive well under these conditions. 

If growing candle bush from seeds, start them indoors and water them until they sprout. Transplant them outdoors once the plant reaches ten to twelve inches tall. Potted seedlings can also be purchased in nurseries if starting from seeds isn’t one’s preference. 

Step 2: When rainfall is scarce, candle bush plants require watering weekly to keep the soil moist. If grown as a perennial, the candle bush plant will become more drought-resistant as it develops. 

Step 3: Another way to make sure that the candle bush plant receives enough water is by regularly removing weeds around the area it’s planted. Applying one to two inches of mulch can also lessen the number of weeds and retain more water effectively. 

Step 4: To help in plant growth, feed candle bush plants once a month with a half-strength solution of balanced fertilizer. This will encourage the plant to reach its full height and produce vibrant, lush blooms. 

Step 5: One way to help maintain the appearance of candle bush plants is by pruning. Heavy pruning after the blooms have developed results in a more compact or attractive bush. 

Although candle bush plants are regarded as a beneficial ornamental, some see it as a weed. If the plant starts becoming invasive and harmful towards other plants in the garden, it can be cut to the ground or taken out by the roots. 

Medicinal benefits of candle bush 

Other than being ornamental and admired for their distinct flowers, the leaves of candle bush plants are also of some importance to those looking for a natural remedy to particular ailments. 

Candle bush plants are also considered as medicinal herbs in the Philippines because they contain chrysophanic acid, a fungicide used to treat fungal infections like ringworms, scabies, and eczema. 

It also contains saponin, a useful laxative in expelling intestinal parasites, and has antibacterial, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties. 

To use on external ailments, pound the leaves of the plant then squeeze the juice and apply it to affected areas.

Candle bush plants are only one of the many florae that grow in the Philippines that serves more than just an ornamental purpose. Recognizing these species does more than just provide gardeners with a captivating plant or a natural remedy to their ailments; it can also be a way of preserving local culture for years to come.

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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