The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.
This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.
Harlequin glorybower, peanut butter tree, Japanese clerodendron, or fate tree: whichever name you choose to call it, Clerodendrum trichotomum is an attention-grabber and a great choice for any forest edge or thicket-inspired planting design.
Clerodendrum trichotomum’s growth habit can be a bit unkempt and forms a thicket, but this large shrub can be trained to be a small, very ornamental tree that grows 10 to 20 feet in height and width. It has dark green, soft, downy, and almost heart-shaped leaves that are about five inches in length and do not produce a fall color. However, the real show starts in late summer, when we can begin to see what makes Clerodendrum trichotomum special. Pink-hued buds formed on ends of branches produce tubular white flowers that open and fill the air with their sweet fragrance. The buds are only to be outdone by the scarlet calyx that lasts after the flower falls, giving way to the pleasing blue-green, metallic-looking fruit that is formed, making a most interesting fall contrast. These features make Clerodendrum a great fit that adds multi-season interest to our park.
Clerodendrum trichotomum is native to China, Japan, and regions of Southeast Asia and thrives best in USDA zones seven through nine. Be sure to give this plant a break from the midday sun by planting it in partial shade, using organically rich, well-drained soil for best results.
This unique shrubby tree belongs to the family Lamiacea, which along with Clerodendrum also includes common fragrant herbs like basil, mint, and lavender. True to its family characteristics, Clerodendrum trichotomum’s foliage is aromatic, with a scent resembling peanut butter, hence the common names the peanut butter tree. The fragrance is most aromatic when the foliage is bruised, but do not go beating up on it as its leaves cause skin irritation for some.
Clerodendrum's genus name, as so many others, derives from the Greek language. The word kleros means "chance" or "fate" and dendrum means "tree." Historically the leaves have been used as a mild analgesic and in the treatment of dermatitis and other ailments. In addition, the crushed seeds have been used as a remedy for lice.
So the next time you are left scratching your head as to what plant to use in your woodland edge garden or as an informal border, consider Clerodendrum trichotomum.
WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
In late summer you can spot Clerodendrum trichotomum's fragrant white flowers in the Gansevoort Woodland.
Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!