Clerodendrum trichotomum!

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Red-pink star shaped calyses, metallic blue, pearl-like fruits, easily mistaken for flowers.

You are so right to be confused, as she often tricks her viewers with her beautiful fruits, which are oftenly mistaken for flowers! So when you search for a flowering tree/shrub with ‘red petals and blue spherical center’ you may remain empty handed.

Her common name is ‘Harlequin glory bower‘ in English, ‘Chou Wu Tong‘ in Chinesse, ‘Kusagi‘ in Japanese, ‘Frilandsklerodendrum‘ in Swedish, ‘Kısmet ağacı‘ in Turkish, ‘Japanischer Losbaum‘ in German and ‘L’arbre du clergé‘ in French. Latin name, Clerodendrum means chance/fate tree as in Greek kleros means ‘chance’ and dendron means ‘tree’.

She belongs to genus Clerodendrum which was named ny Linnaeus but ‘Clerodendrum trichotomum’ is identified by another great Swedish botanist (or Japanese Linnaeus) Carl Per Thunberg. Thunberg’s author abbreviation is ‘Thunb.‘. This is why you get some results as ‘Clerodendrum trichotomum Thunb.’ when you search for the plant.

Scent of leaves, when crushed, is similiar to the peanut butter smell. So harlequin glory bower is also called as ‘Peanut butter tree‘.

Flowers within flowers?:

Now, how do her flowers really look like then? No doubt that the fruits look glorious but the flowers are also very beautiful. They are; in clustered cymes, white, have 5 petals and very long (and sometimes beautifully tangled) anthers and fragrant. Pinkish petal like things, which corolla tube emerges from are not flowers but calyses. Leaves are broad and ovate shaped.

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‘Real’ flowers, buds and calyses (which will later take the star shape around the blue fruit) of harlequin glory bower.
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Harlequin glory bower, blooming.

She is deciduous and may seem unattractive when the foliage and fruits are gone. But on the other hand if you want to attract butterflies, she’s good at it!

She grows naturally in the fields and mountains of Korea, Japan, and China. Has a little potential to be invasive yet she has made it to the ban list of National Pest Plant Accord in New Zealand in 2012 as an invasive species.

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Leaves are falling! Clerodendrum trichotomum, in late autumn.(Photo taken in late November, 2015)

Those blue pearls!:

Clerodendrum trichotomum fruits are metallic-blue, spherical, pearl-like drupes. And no matter how beautiful they look like, they are not edible. Trichotomine -a blue pigment- is found in those tiny pearls and studied by many researchers.

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Harlequin glory bower, fruits (photo taken in December 2015).

Anti-inflammatory contents have been reported from leaves, that explains its medicinal use in Bangladesh for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Dried leaves and stems also shows varying effects like  blood pressure reduction, sedation, soothing, and paralysis activity and antibacterial activities of some compounds obtained from C. trichotomum, were confirmed by studies.(1,2,3) 

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Blue fruits and red calyses.

Blue pigments involved in fruit of C. trichotomum have several properties suitable for a food color, but they have not been exploited for such uses due to difficulty in collecting large amounts of fruit.(4) The plant is considered as inedible.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum, maturing blue fruits inside of pink calyses.

Beware of impersonators!

What are the other similar plants which you may mistaken for harlequin glory bower? Well, as far as I see, close relatives such as Clerodendrum indicum, Clerodendrum glabrum, C. infortunatum, and Mickey Mouse bushes (from genus Ochna) may trick you. Search for them now and compare.

So much for this lady, if there’s anything you want to add please feel free to write in comments! Until next time, take care!

Literature I used and/or recommend:

As I promised, to keep it simple, I didn’t include all of the things I found very useful in that post. But if you are interested in learning more about Clerodendrum trichotomum, here are some great reads including the ones I used.

1) Anti-inflammatory phenylpropanoid glycosides from Clerodendron trichotomum leaves, Kim KH, Kim S, Jung MY, Ham IH, Whang WK, 2009.

2) Folk Medicinal Uses of Verbenaceae Family Plants in Bangladesh, Mohammed Rahmatullah,Rownak Jahan,FM Safiul Azam,S Hossan,MAH Mollik,Taufiq Rahman, 2011.

3) In the Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, Huang KC, 1993.

4) Illustrated book of Korean medicinal herbs, Ahn DK, 1998.

5) Antibacterial Activity of Triterpenoids from Clerodendron trichotomum
Ji Won Choi, Eun Ju Cho, Dong Gu Lee, Kyung Choi, Jajung Ku, Kwang-Woo Park, Sanghyun Lee, 2012.

6) Traditional Chinese Medicine – A manual from A-Z, 2003, Springer

7) https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=511

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