Thursday, September 09, 2010

Those trees you're smelling all over Portland right now

clerodendrum harlequin glorybower
This is a cross post to my latest column over at Just Out.

There’s one!

There’s one! Ooh, and there’s one!

I’ve been saying this while driving or walking around Portland neighborhoods recently. I’ve become my mother, eyeing and pointing out trees or plants I know, love and recognize. As a teenager, I’d roll my eyes when my mom would do this. Why does she always have to call out the plants she sees? I’d ask in my head. But alas, we all become our parents, and with all of the Clerodendrum c. trichotomum “harlequin glorybowers” in full bloom right now, I’ve become my mother.

In late summer, harlequin glorybower trees fill our yards and streets with their scent. Their full blooming white flowers make them easy to spot in this time of year that can be barren of blooms. It is because of this, their blooms, that I’ve been pointing them out and shouting, “Another!”

The rest of the year, harlequin glorybowers are quiet things, providing green backgrounds to other stars that flaunt and command the stage. A solid form when pruned correctly, they’re a staple in many gardens, invisible until late August. And did I mention their scent? Just thinking of it makes me swoon a bit. Their rich, heady, hot weather fragrance comes from this summer bloom, weighing heavy in the air on a warm day or evening. As a matter of fact, a police officer attending to a neighborhood event late one night recently asked me what kind of tree that was, noting how incredible it smelled. See? I’m telling you: it’s such a magnificent scent even cops notice it.

There are many things I love about harlequin glorybowers. At the top of the list is that when you crush or crumble the leaves, they smell just like peanut butter. I also love that they leaf out late in spring, allowing for seasonal blooms that require sun to flourish at their feet. They’re generally healthy trees, growing with ease in our climate to a size of 15 to 20 feet or more. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many harlequin glorybowers that are improperly or severely pruned, and one of their best assets can be their shape or form.

If you have a harlequin glorybower, make sure it’s situated in a spot with ample room to grow, and take care of doing only bits of pruning at a time. A downside of the harlequin glorybower is they do have a tendency to send up suckers or shoots from their roots. This can be great if you want to produce more trees, and give them away to fellow gardeners. If I’m not sharing mine, I cut unwanted shoots down, below the ground. They can grow quickly so don’t wait to trim them out or you might end up with a whole new tree.

Here’s a secret to know about the harlequin glorybower: just when you thought its biggest show was with its late summer fragrant bloom, there’s more. Come fall, the maroon/purple calyxes hang on and turquoise-colored fruit replaces the white blooms—crazy colors to see in the garden.

Underneath our harlequin glorybower, I plant a plethora of spring blooms like hyacinth, jonquils and lily of the valley. When summer arrives and the tree has leafed out, the hostas fill in, making the deep shade a cool and tranquil place to visit—and a very special spot for a summer nap, among the heady fragrance of that magic summer flower.


danger garden said...

I read the title of your post before I saw the picture and I just knew you had to be talking about the Clerodendrum. We've got one in the neighborhood that's sprouted a few healthy babies in the hell strip. I may have to go rescue one (with permission of course).

Amy said...

I am pretty excited about the peanut butter smell. I don't have one of these trees (and really - I'm out of room for more trees), but I might go find one in the neighborhood & steal a few leaves. :)

Jacquelyn said...

I'm pretty sure these are the trees we have growing in our hell strip. I never liked them because when all of Portland is bursting out in cherry blossoms and spring and colors and green, my trees are naked, sad little sticks still. This post gives me hope that I will learn to appreciate and maybe even love them one day. I might have to steal your planting-beneath-them ideas, too. Our hell strip currently looks like. . . well, hell. :P

Anonymous said...

We actually started calling them "peanut butter and jelly" trees when we noticed how sweet the flowers smell.

Anonymous said...

We had some planted on the curb by friends of trees this year. They look exactly like that, and smell wonderful. However, the leaves do not smell like peanut butter, and the blooms were early August. What's going on?

Laura said...

You paint quite a picture! Sounds divine! I love tree's that surprise with their once a year brilliance! Makes you feel like a kid again! Blue punch buggie-no punch back!

Stephen said...

We had a large & very old Clerodendrum in our Seattle garden. We slept ina loft that was reached by ladder, & in the summer we would pop out the windows (from a salvage store, & live in a tree house. The Clerodendrum would reach & grow into the room & we would have the aroma right over our sleeping heads.

The largest Clerodendrum I ever encountered was on the grounds of the Ciaprini Hotel in Venice. It was gigantic. I have a photo of me bruising the leaves to smell the peanut butter.

I never saw another Clerodendrum in Seattle & friends would gather to wonder at ours. I was surprised when I moved to NoPo, they were all over the neighborhood!

e said...

I love these trees! They are beautiful and fragrant and easy keepers. I didn't know about the peanut butter scented leaves though... I'm going to ride past my neighbor's tree and crush a leaf. Nice!