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Written by Jeff Shimonski -- BT Contributor   
March 2013

Clerodendrums, with a little care, can bring a lot of color to your landscape

DPix_YourGarden_3-13riving through older Miami neighborhoods lately, I’m seeing in bloom a plant that has become quite common during the past decade or so. Starburst, or Clerodendrum quadriloculare, with its striking cantaloupe-size bunches of flowers against large green-on-top and purple-on-the-bottom leaves, catches your eye right away, especially when it reaches the size of a small tree.

This is one of a number of clerodendrum species that can be grown in our landscapes. Some species can grow into small trees like the starburst, some are shrubs, and there are also vines. The clumps of flowers (known as the inflorescence) on different species can be red, white, orange, or pink. Hundreds of species of clerodendrum are found throughout the tropics.

I’ve grown a variety of species over the years and most have very colorful, long-lasting inflorescences. The main drawback to growing clerodendrum, at least in my experience, is the aggressiveness of some species. A number of species send out root suckers and can fill a yard in only a few years.

As a group, they all seem to experience dieback in the winter or dry season, but this does not stop the root-suckering species from spreading into adjacent areas. (I have successfully grown and contained these plants in areas that were surrounded by concrete or some other type of pavement.)

Another drawback to these plants is that some species set viable seeds. These are the blue-black fruit sometimes found among the flowers. The fruit are bird dispersed, so these species tend to become invasive. An interesting fact about clerodendrum is that they do not self-pollinate, which means insects or butterflies are doing the job on diurnal, or day-blooming, flowers; the white flowering plants are fragrant and get pollinated at night.

I once grew a very attractive white flowering species. This is the Chinese glory bower, Clerodendrum philippinum. It was one of the root-suckering species and would form dense clumps. Bridal veil, Clerodendrum wallichii, is another white-flowered shrub with pendulous flowers. It grows well in a container.

One of my favorite shrub species is the pagoda flower, Clerodendrum paniculatum. On well-grown plants, the long-lasting, red pagoda-shaped inflorescence can be more than a foot wide and a foot tall. It is a root-suckering species but is not too aggressive.

I once built a large, screened-in butterfly exhibit and grew many clerodendrum inside. I tried quite a few species of plants to see which would attract the captive native butterflies. One day I walked into the exhibit with a containerized glory flower, Clerodendrum bungei, and the purple flowers were immediately covered by butterflies. This was one of the most popular butterfly plants in the exhibit.

The glory flower is a root-suckering species, so be careful where you plant it. I also planted blue butterfly bush, Clerodendrum ugandense, in the exhibit, but because it has fewer flowers, it was visited less often by the butterflies.

The bleeding heart vine, Clerodendrum thomsoniae, is quite attractive. I have had it growing in my yard at home for years and have never worried about it getting out of control, since it never seems to grow more that 10 or 15 feet high and it dies back every winter. I have seen these grown successfully on trellises. This would be a great balcony plant.

One of the more common species to be found in South Florida is Clerodendrum speciosissimum. It is another suckering species with a red inflorescence that is very noticeable in the landscape. There also seems to be a bit of variation in the size and form of this species, so keep a look out for the best varieties (remembering to contain the roots).

When I used to grow large beds of clerodendrum, I would always cut them to the ground when they started to die back in the winter. I would then place a few inches of mulch on the ground and plant bromeliads to add a bit of winter color. In spring, when the clerodendrum would begin to grow, I would remove the bromeliads to let the new plants grow up. This lent an interesting perspective to the garden.

I regularly cut my starburst plants down to the ground. This helps maintain them at a reasonable size. I have also seen them grown surrounded by lawns, so when the root suckers come up, they can be cut down easily by the lawn mower.

Remember, some of these plants can be invasive, but with a little common-sense gardening, they can add a lot of color to a garden.

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified municipal arborist, director of horticulture at Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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