If you guessed "cinnamon", you're right! Hot cinnamon rolls are great for breakfast and cinnamon powder is amazingly effective for stopping rot in stored tubers, rhizomes or corms. Plus, it smells good! Read on . . .
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 12, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Spice for life
After my experience with aspirin and the beneficial aspects of using it to help plants fight off infections, I mused about other naturally occurring substances or products that might have similar uses. In my searching for information about this, I found out about the use of cinnamon powder to stop the progress of rot on infected tubers. Of course, I had to try this for myself to see if there was anything to it. After all, cinnamon is readily available, you don't need a pesticide applicator's license to use it, and your pets are in no danger if you do use it.
So when I saw rot spots showing up on a large Alocasia rhizome, I ran for my shaker of cinnamon powder, cleaned off the rotted or diseased tissue and then applied the powder liberally, pressing it onto the wound to make sure it stuck there. It sure smelled nice, but the real test was going to be after a few days, when I found out if the rotting stopped, or if it progressed.
How Sweet It Is!
The next day, I was out inspecting the wound for signs either way. To my delight, the wound was dry and showed no signs of further rotting. Days and weeks later, the wound was dry and apparently healed. Since then, I've had the opportunity to try this remedy with several different tuber rotting situations, and it has worked each time.
When you find that a favorite plant has a tuber, corm or rhizome that is showing signs of rotting, the first step is to clean the affected area thoroughly, being certain to remove any diseased or rotted tissue down to where all you see is firm healthy tissue. At this point you can wash the wound with hydrogen peroxide if you wish. Alternatives would be a 10% solution of chlorine bleach (9 ounces water plus 1 ounce bleach) or a surface sterilant solution that contains quaternary amine compounds (I know, not something you are likely to have, but if you work in a hospital, lab or restaurant, they may have some), After this cleaning, dry the wound area and then apply the cinnamon powder liberally, pressing it to the raw exposed area so as to be sure the powder has covered and adhered to all of the area. The most important part of the preparation is to be sure you have removed all diseased or rotted tissue from the affected area. Even if you do not do the surface sterilization, the cinnamon powder can still work magic.
Help for more than just your plants
Cinnamon, or Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is a small evergreen tree that hails from Sri Lanka, and has a history of being used as a medicinal herb. In most cases, cinnamon was used as a curative for human illnesses and as an anti-spoiling agent for foodstuffs. More information on the history and uses of cinnamon can be found at herbwisdom.com. Modern research has demonstrated that cinnamon does indeed contain active biochemical components that exhibit antifungal and antibacterial properties when tested in vitro, meaning in the test tube or petri dish environment. Cinnamon can even help people with diabetes, as research has determined that one active principle in cinnamon powder, MHCP (methylhydroxychalcone polymer), a water-soluble polyphenol compound, mimics insulin. More information on this can be found in New Scientist 24 November 2003.
A dusting of spice
However, for our purposes as gardeners, our concern is that cinnamon can help in our struggle to keep our prized plants from being preyed upon by fungi and bacteria, especially the rot-causing kind. As a result of my having had positive results in using cinnamon, I even use it when packaging a tuber, corm or rhizome for shipping to someone, especially if any wounds are present. So often I have removed a smaller offset from a larger plant and there is an open wound. Even though this wound is not infected, the cinnamon can serve well as a protectant, covering and drying the wound while preventing any fungal or bacterial invasions. You may even try powdering your newly sown seed trays as a preventive for damping off. The price is certainly right, so why not give it a try?
LariAnn has been gardening and working with plants since her teenage years growing up in Maryland. Her intense interest in plants led her to college at the University of Florida, where she obtained her Bachelor's degree in Botany and Master of Agriculture in Plant Physiology. In the late 1970s she began hybridizing Alocasias, and that work has expanded to Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Caladiums as well. She lives in south Florida with her partner and son and is research director at Aroidia Research, her privately funded organization devoted to the study and breeding of new, hardier, and more interesting aroid plants.