Grow the candy corn plant for nonstop blooms.

Although candy corn tends to vanish from store shelves before Christmas, you can keep the memory of that sweet treat all year with the candy corn vine (Manettia luteorubra, inflata, or bicolor). Actually, the look isn’t all that similar, since the plant’s 1-inch sticky and slightly hairy blooms have swollen orange-red bases and yellow tips.

The most common candy corn which really is candy has a yellow base, orange mid-section, and white tips. But at least the flowers won’t give you calories or cavities, though I wouldn't recommend that you eat them. (Although the plant is listed as "not known to be toxic," it isn't supposed to be edible either.)

It sometimes is called the cigar or Brazilian firecracker plant too, for the flowers' tubular shape. They can appear almost year-round under frost-free conditions, but you must be careful to protect manettia when the temperatures dip.

Manettia luteorubraI learned that the hard way after I received a small specimen in a trade one summer. I tend to leave all my houseplants and tropicals outdoors as long as possible, generally until about mid-October--covering the pots with blankets during light frosts. That was a mistake with manettia, as the freezing temperatures did kill it, despite it being under cover. So I would recommend that you bring this one in early unless you live in zones 9b through 11, where it should be hardy.

In those areas, you can plant it in the ground in a position where it will receive partial sun (preferably morning sun) or bright, indirect light. In northern zones, it should be able to tolerate more rays without burning. However, gardeners there probably will want to place manettia in a pot with a trellis, so it can be kept indoors on a sunny windowsill over the winter.

It prefers moderately rich, well-drained soil a bit on the acidic side. Don’t allow that soil to get soggy, but don’t allow it to completely dry out either. Plants which grow from tubers, as this one does, will die back to those tubers under arid or frosty conditions. (Now that I think of it, perhaps my manettia wasn’t entirely defunct, just resting!)

Manettia cordifolia If you would prefer a more cold resistant species, Manettia cordifolia reportedly can be hardy as far north as zone 7b, dying back to the soil over winter and re-sprouting in spring. Its 2-inch red-orange flowers generally don’t have the yellow tips, but they are extremely attractive to hummingbirds, as are the more corny ones!

Both vines, which are natives of South America, can grow to about 12 feet when happy. Be careful that you don’t over-fertilize them, as that also can burn their foliage.

I wasn’t able to find information on the germination of manettia, nor a source for the seeds. It usually is propagated by cuttings instead, either from the top growth or from the roots. Most of the references I discovered to the candy corn plant were in old books, so it apparently was more widely grown a century or so ago than it is today.

That’s a shame because, as Ida Bennett wrote in her 1903 The Flower Garden, “The Manettia Vine is one of the most satisfactory vines for winter blooming, requiring only a small pot and a place in a sunny window, and blooming better when pot-bound. . .It is that rare thing—a plant which the florists have not overpraised. It is every bit as good as it is claimed to be.”


Images: The banner photo is by begoniacrazii from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. The antique Manettia luteorubra image is by M. Smith from a 1901 edition of Curtis's Botanical Magazine and the Manettia cordifolia image by J. MacNab from an 1832 issue of the same magazine.