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Clerodendrums Produce Exotic Flowers, Fragrances
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Fragrance that entices you to stay, swallowtail butterflies by the dozens and flowers of rare, exotic beauty are all traits of a group of plants blooming across our area known as clerodendrums, or clerodendrons.
The most common in our area is the Clerodendrum bungei, or Cashmere Bouquet. You see them in many gardens with huge bouquets of rose-pink flowers that have a delightfully sweet fragrance. Butterflies find these flowers a treat. I have also seen the flower clusters used to give special touches in floral arrangements. The foliage also has a striking bronze-purple cast mixed with the dark green. Some consider the foliage as having a bad odor when touched, but I don't think it's that bad.
The Cashmere Bouquet is native to Mexico and South America, and is hardy throughout zone 7. It will return from the ground in the spring. Since it blooms on current season's growth, pruning stems that do come through the winter will enhance the bloom.
Depending on your outlook, there is a warning to go along with the Cashmere Bouquet and many of the other clerodendrums. They are aggressive about spreading, so you will soon have a forest of clerodendrums if you do not remove volunteers.
One of the prettiest plantings I have seen had the Cashmere Bouquet growing with elephant ears. Mynelle Gardens in Jackson has wonderful plantings of this one in addition to the Cleronderum trichotomum, or Glory Bower.
Whereas the Cashmere Bouquet develops into a shrub-like habit, the Glory Bower develops into a small tree. The fragrance of its white and rosy-red-flowers permeates the air in the area it is growing, and I relish the time it is in bloom. Sometimes I have seen more swallowtails than I could count. Hummingbirds also love to feast on the sweet nectar.
This clerodendrum is special in that after the bloom you have a steel blue fruit in the middle of the red calyx that remains attractive for a long period of time. This native of Japan is hardy in zone 7 as well.
Two others that are uniquely beautiful are the Clerodendrum ugandense, or Butterfly Bush (not to be confused with buddleia), and Clerodendrum paniculatum, or Pagoda Flower. Books say they are only hardy in the tropics, yet I have found them growing, blooming and returning in south central Mississippi. I expect we don't know how hardy they really are.
The Clerodenrum ugandense is native to Africa and is a medium-to- large shrub producing clusters of butterfly or orchid-shaped flowers in combinations of blue, violet and white. These have long stamens that are blue-to-violet with afternoon shade or white in full sun. Those that appear to be the happiest receive morning sun and afternoon shade.
To me, the most spectacular is the Pagoda Flower. I was shocked the first time they showed up in Brookhaven where I was giving a program. These plants are large and shrub-like even if they come back from the ground. The flowers are bright orange and produced on large 14- to 18-inch terminal panicles. When you see them, you would swear they are from Bora Bora.
They are native to Southeast Asia and appear to have much more cold tolerance than expected. When I get mine, I will plant it in a protected area of the landscape. This one, like others, does sucker and to me it is perfectly fine. Anything with a flower like this can make itself at home in my yard or anywhere it wants for that matter.
One last species I want to share is the Clerodendrum thomsoniae; you may know it as Bleeding Heart. This was a great year for them in our coastal counties as they lost no vines and bloomed spectacularly. This is one we all ought to grow perhaps like a mandevilla or at least in a large basket. Those of you in south zone 8 with those special microclimates can try them outside, but the rest of us will have to bring them indoors.
The clerodendrums are in the verbena family, but they should also be part of your family, too!