Wednesday 21 February 2018

A glorious tree - for those in the know

Gerry Daly

The glory tree is an outstanding small tree but is hardly known, rarely appears in gardens, and then only in the gardens of people who know their plants. At the moment this superb small tree is completely covered with a dramatic show of white flowers. The summer last year and this year seems to have suited it.

It is also sometimes known as glory bower and harlequin glory bower, and its botanical name is Clerodendrum trichotomum. It is related to a clerodendrum house plant but it is hardy. It is also called peanut butter tree because the leaves, when crushed, exude a scent reminiscent of peanut butter.

The white, jasmine-like flowers are about two centimetres across and are produced from a purse-like calyx of pale crimson colour. The effect of these flowers, held in flat bunches against the overlapping foliage, is very pretty.

Close-up, the flowers have spidery stamens with pale brown tips. There is the bonus of a sweet, honeysuckle-like scent. It flowers in late August and September. After the flowers fall, the crimson calyces open out in a star shape and a small fruit forms at the centre. Initially creamy white, the fruits change colour to bright blue and later to dark blue.

As autumn progresses, and the flowers tail off slowly, by mid-October, the leaves take on autumn colour. The older branches first turn to shades of red and wine while the rest of the bush stays green. Week after week, other branches follow suit with some of those towards the centre of the tree fading to soft yellow. It is a very good autumn colour tree.

The hardy clerodendrum forms a handsome, mounded, large shrub or small tree up to six metres tall. It does not flower for its first few years, sometimes ten years, and not until is it around two metres or more tall and wide. This is a disadvantage because people want quick results, but this plant is worth the wait. It is a fine tree for small gardens as it can be pruned up to give space and access underneath, but it can be left clothed to the ground in leaves and flowers.

It has an unfortunate tendency to throw up suckers, especially when growing in light soil, and these must be removed or they will quickly form a thicket of stems and come up in the midst of other plants. But they are soft and brittle, and easily chopped out with a spade. It is no worse at suckering than the very popular stagshorn sumach, the suckers of which have been passed on for decades in gardens. The glory tree can be passed on by suckers, lifted when established on their own roots and when the leaves have fallen.

There are so few late-flowering trees and shrubs, it might be expected to be better known. It is rarely seen for sale in garden centres because it looks like a scrawny twig in a pot and does not appeal to impulse buying.

Can you identify the attached please? It just appeared here. I am worried it is Japanese knotweed. B. Croke, by email

The plant is pheasant berry, or Leycesteria formosa. From Asia, it was brought in as a garden shrub and to provide food and shelter for pheasants, but it appears here and there as a garden escape, the seeds carried by birds. It is not Japanese knotweed but it too is a very fast grower.

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Is this Japanese knotweed?

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