What we know as ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks is actually the bark of a tree of the Lauraceae family, the cinnamon tree. You can even have a cinnamon tree in your home in a large pot as an indoor plant.
These evergreen trees belong to the genus Cinnamomum which is native from Myanmar, the Malabar Coast and Sri Lanka. Nowadays cinnamon is mostly produced by India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, West Indies and Brazil. Those who live in tropical climates can easily grow cinnamon trees in their backyard.
This spice is one of the oldest in use. It has been used since antiquity and it is mentioned in the Bible and even found in Egyptian temples, since they used it to mummify bodies. Medicinal benefits of cinnamon include its antioxidants properties, as well as its ability to improve oral and skin health, strengthen the reproductive system and it is anti cancer.
Cinnamon was used in ancient times not only as a flavoring but also as an ingredient in perfumes, creams, and remedies. In fact, cinnamon has stimulating, astringent, and antiseptic properties.
Types of Cinnamon
Ceylon: The best cinnamon is the Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) which is also known as the true cinnamon. It is native to Sri Lanka but now it is grown in other areas such as Madagascar, Zanzibar (you can do a spice tour in Zanzibar), Egypt, Brazil, India and Vietnam. It is smaller than other species since it grows 10 to 15 meters (32 to 49 feet) tall. Ceylon cinnamon has a delicate flavor that is used in cooking. Since it is the most sought after type of cinnamon, this means it is also the most expensive.
Cassia: is known as Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), which is also native to India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. It grows 10 to 15 meters (33 to 49 feet) tall. As you can imagine, if it is made in China is cheaper and not as good. This is what most people purchase when they buy cinnamon in the grocery store.
Vietnamese: this Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii) is also known as Saigon cinnamon. The tree measures 15 to 20 meters (49 to 65 feet) tall, so it is taller than other varieties. It has a strong flavor and aroma which is delicious in pho broth.
Grow a Cinnamon Tree from Seeds
Those who wish to grow a cinnamon tree from seeds need to plant them soon after being extracted from the tree. Make sure to buy fresh seeds that are delivered quickly because you only have a window of 7 to 10 days to plant them after. Get a medium size pot or big growing bags to germinate the seeds. Fill them with good soil which can be a combination of acidic soil, perlite and peat moss since this tree needs plenty of organic material, as well as loose and sandy topsoil so it can drain properly.
Make holes in the soil that are about a centimeter deep. Place one seed in each hole and cover them lightly with soil. Spray with water, it is best if you use filtered water (invest in a water filter for your house since tap water is full of toxins).
Leave your plants in a warm or sunny area of your home or garden and spray them with water when the soil is dry. Be patient because they may take two to three weeks to germinate. This tropical plant needs a warm place to grow. Transplant the seedlings into their own area once they sprout their first true leaves which will be darker and larger than the rest. This will take around four months.
Grow a Cinnamon Tree from Cuttings
Those who already have a cinnamon tree can reproduce them from cuttings, but this also requires patience since it can take several months for them to grow. Get your cuttings and remove most of the leaves. Each cutting should be placed in a medium sized pot filled with soil. Plant the cuttings deep enough so they can stand on their own. Only one cutting should be planted per pot. Place them in a warm and sunny location indoors or sheltered until you see the first signs of growth. Add water when you see that the soil is dry.
How to Take Care of a Cinnamon Tree
This evergreen tree needs full sun most of the day and humidity. It grows in the tropics, subtropics and Mediterranean climate (USDA zone 9+). If you live in an area that is too hot, plant your tree in light shade when it is young. Cinnamon trees require well drained soil and regular watering. Surround its base with mulch to keep the roots moist and cool, so you don’t have to water it every day. It is important to remove weeds surrounding the base. This tree does not need much fertilization, but you can give them a light fertilizer with nitrogen periodically.
Prune weak or dead branches as it is useful for cinnamon cultivation. Also design your tree so it has one or a few main trunks, rather than plenty of little branches which will make it harder and longer to harvest. Another alternative is to use a sharp knife at a 30 degree angle to cut the main stems after 2 years so they produce 5 to 8 stems that can be harvested yearly after 8 to 10 years. Cinnamon trees can grow up to 60 feet or 20 meters depending on the variety which is planted. This tree is a slow grower.
How to Harvest Cinnamon
It takes about three years to be able to harvest your cinnamon tree, once it reaches a height of 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 2 meters). However it is not the easiest of tasks so make sure you know what you are doing, otherwise you may kill your tree without intent.
The bark is harvested during the rainy season when it is most heavily sap-loaded. Depending on soil fertility and rainfall it can be harvested two to three times per year, between May to August and again in November. Harvest every six months for a fine bark and every eight for a coarser bark.
Cut a vertical line in the bark and wait until it is disconnected from the tree. You can do this yearly after the tree is established. Another option is to simply wait for the tree to remove its bark. Dry cinnamon bark under the sun for a few hours. As it dries, the bark rolls upon itself to form small sticks 8 to 10 cm long. Keep the tubes inside to dry for four to seven days. Cinnamon is used as an essence or as a spice in cooking.
Leaves of the cinnamon tree are also edible, as well as the small yellow flowers. The leaves can be used to make beverages such as tea, cooking or for fragrance.
Problems and Pests for Cinnamon Trees
I haven’t had many problems with my cinnamon trees, but they can suffer from fungi and bacterial problems, as well as pests like mites and insects. Seedling blight is a fungal problem which may affect seedlings causing them to turn brown. Do not over water them and use a fungicide as prevention. Another fungal problem is stripe canker which can be prevented by using soil and seeds that are free of disease.
Leafspot is a bacterial problem which causes brown flecks on leaves. Make sure to remove affected leaves as soon as you see this pattern. Leafminers are a moth and its larvae which can damage leaves. They can be removed by hand or using an insecticide. Cinnamon gall mites are mites that cause cone shaped galls on the bottom of leaves which can be attacked by using an insecticide.