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This past week I had the pleasure of talking with the Hibriten Gardening Club at their monthly meeting. Evelyn Beam invited me to the meeting and asked if I would be willing to answer questions from the group. The club meeting was held at Betty Miller’s home in Lenoir.
Judy Edwards brought a plant sample for identification. She said it was a small tree that bloomed white in the summer and now has beautiful red looking structures with round blue/black berries in the center.
She mentioned the tree attracts butterflies, among other insects, when blooming.
It had been several years since I’d seen a sample of this plant. It is called the harlequin glory-bower. The scientific name is Clerodendrum trichotomum. Many plants in the genus Clerodendrum are tropical plants. However, this species is hardy to zone 7, so it will grow in all of Caldwell County except the most northern areas with higher elevations and colder winters.
The harlequin glory-bower is a native of China and Japan. It has a non-formal open growth habit that can reach a height of up to 10 feet and have an equal spread. The plant can be trained to take on a tree shape with the diligent removal of suckers.
The fragrant blooms from the summer yield iridescent berries and have what looks like red flower petals at the base. These red petals are actually the calyx. The calyx is left over from the base of the flower. The calyx is formed from the sepals that protect the developing flower bud. Unlike most other plants, the calyx stays around and adds interest to the ripe fruit. Persimmons are similar to the harlequin glory-bower because the persimmon fruit also retains the calyx.
The red calyx persists as the fruit develops into small bright blue berries, making a very colorful combination. The leaves quietly drop in the autumn with no show of fall color and may still be green when they fall.
Some literature says the harlequin glory-bower prefers moist, well-drained soils. However, it seems to grow very well in heavy clay soil, too. There is a specimen of this plant growing at the NC State University JC Raulston Arboretum. They have found the plant grows best and flowers the most in full sun, but it can grow and flower in partial shade. Propagation is easy from seed or cuttings. Partially hardened wood cuttings can be taken in early summer and rooted in a high moisture chamber.
If you decide to put one of these plants in your landscape, then realize the plants like to sucker from its roots much like a sumac. A good way to prevent this is to plant it in a lawn area where any suckers are mowed off or plant it in a large planter.
For answers to your agricultural questions, call the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center at 828-757-1290 or visit us online anytime.
N.C. Cooperative Extension is open to everyone. We strive to provide research-based and unbiased information.