How to Grow the Peanut Butter Tree (Harlequin Glorybower)

harlequin glorybower star-shaped flower

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

The peanut butter tree (Clerodendrum trichotomum) is a small tree or deciduous shrub known for its unusual peanut butter scent emitted by dark green, ovate leaves when crushed. The cascades of its delicate, showy flowers make the peanut butter tree a unique and attractive choice. You should plant this fast-growing species in the spring. This species is also invasive in the Northeast and eastern regions of the United States, so it may be preferable to grow it in pots. Peanut butter trees can be toxic to people.

Common Name Peanut butter tree, harlequin glorybower, fate tree
Botanical Name Clerodendrum trichotomum
Family Verbenaceae
Plant Type Perennial, tree
Mature Size 10-15 ft. tall, 10-15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained, loamy, sandy
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 6-10 (USDA)
Native Areas Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people

Peanut Butter Tree Care

These small ornamental trees or flowering shrubs grow in tropical areas. Still, newer cultivars such as Clerodendrum trichotomum 'Betty Stiles' are hardy to zone 6b, meaning they can flourish as far north as New York City and the Lower Hudson Valley. This species grows profusely and sometimes aggressively, so it does best when given plenty of space in the yard.

You should plant the peanut butter tree in spring in a spot that receives full to partial sun. Opt for a location that doesn't draw heavy drainage from rain, as your plant can develop root rot in overly wet soil. Since these plants are usually drought-tolerant, they don't require much watering.

Warning

The peanut butter tree is considered invasive in the Northeast and eastern regions of the United States.

harlequin glorybower
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
harlequin glorybower
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
star-shaped flower
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
Pigion snacking on berries of hot pink flowers on large leafed shrub
The berries of harlequin glorybower provide a tasty snack for wildlife, including this pigeon in Nw York's High Line park. Steven Severinghaus / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0​

Light

The peanut butter tree does best with full sun, but in hotter areas, some afternoon shade can help keep the flowers from wilting too fast in midsummer. At least six hours of direct sunlight is ideal for yielding large flowers and berries.

Soil

Peanut butter trees prefer rich, loamy, slightly sandy, well-drained soil. Persistently soggy soil can cause root rot and other damage, so be mindful when choosing a planting location. Avoid planting peanut butter trees at the bottom of hills or in areas where your yard collects standing water after heavy rainfall.

Water

These trees are fairly drought tolerant and usually don't need watering unless during dry spells in spring or summer, in which case they may benefit from an irrigation system. About 1 inch of water per week is sufficient. However, if the soil does not quickly absorb it, refrain from watering and monitor your plant's growth.

Temperature and Humidity

Peanut butter trees are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 6-10, withstanding temperatures as low as -10˚F to -15˚F. Since these plants are not cold-hardy to very harsh winters, early or late frost can affect their growth cycle.

Fertilizer

You may find that your peanut butter tree benefits from a light application of water-soluble fertilizer in spring to promote more abundant flower blooms and berries. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. Stop fertilizing once the flowering period is over. Opting for a fertilizer high in phosphorus (like a 10-30-20 ratio, for example) will help boost blooming.

Types of Peanut Butter Trees

  • Clerodendrum trichotomum 'Betty Stiles'
  • Clerodendrum trichotomum 'Stargazer'
  • Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii
  • C. trichotomum var. fargesii 'Carnival'

Pruning

The peanut butter tree yields many suckers, which should be removed seasonally in spring and fall to temper its invasive tendencies. The cooler your growing zone is, the more aggressively this plant will produce suckers—prune suckers by cutting them as close to the base as possible.

The shrub can be shaped into a tree form with careful pruning done early in the season. If you don't intend to shape the plant, you can prune dead or damaged growth in spring before blossoms form. Pruning young shoots before they become branches helps to maintain the shrub's shape.

Propagating Peanut Butter Trees

Peanut butter trees may be propagated by semi-hardwood cuttings in spring or summer, while you can also utilize root cuttings in winter. Here's how:

  1. Prepare a container with well-drained soil.
  2. Trim a hardwood cutting from the end of a stem about 6 inches long with no leaves or stems protruding. Dip the cut end in the rooting hormone. If taking root cuttings, trim a cutting at least 4 inches long.
  3. Make a second cut at an angle on the bottom end of the root.
  4. Plant your cutting in the soil mixture, leaving semi-hardwood cuttings exposed on top (cover with a plastic bag until rooted if added humidity is needed). Lightly bury root cuttings in the soil.
  5. When the cuttings have rooted, transplant them to larger containers or into your garden and care for them as usual.
  6. This plant does best in the ground, but cuttings can be grown in containers once roots are established if you want to move it to a more protected area for overwintering.

How to Grow Peanut Butter Trees From Seed

While it's possible to grow peanut butter trees from seeds, germination can be very slow and often unsuccessful. It's best to use a greenhouse when growing peanut butter trees from seeds to maintain consistently humid conditions and warm temperatures around 68˚F.

Once you collect seeds from your peanut butter tree, plant them in a greenhouse as soon as possible. Ensure full sun during germination, and once the plants mature, whenever possible. Within 20 to 60 days, your plants should germinate. You can replant them in larger containers once they reach a sturdy height of at least 1 inch tall.

Potting and Repotting Peanut Butter Tree

If you don't live within the peanut butter tree's hardiness zones, you can grow the tree in a pot to be brought indoors for the winter. However, remember that this species can reach 15 feet tall, so it will eventually outgrow your home. Indoor peanut butter trees also require significant pruning to prevent them from overtaking their pots.

Plant your peanut butter tree in a pot with rich, loamy, slightly sandy, well-drained soil. Opt for terracotta or unglazed clay pots with drainage holes on the bottom.

Overwintering

Because the peanut butter tree is frost-sensitive, it's wise to overwinter your plant in a greenhouse or warm area of your home. Planting your tree near a warmer zone (such as next to a brick building or concrete foundation) may help prevent frost damage. If your winter weather looks like it may threaten the plant, cover it loosely with burlap to prevent frost damage or freezing. Early frost in autumn, however, will merely cause the green leaves to wither and drop off and not otherwise harm the plant.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The peanut butter tree is usually disease and pest-free. However, it can be susceptible to pests like aphids and whiteflies. You can easily control infestations with the application of insecticidal soap. Treat your plant with a solution at home by mixing 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap into 1 gallon of water, then spraying the plant with the mixture. Peanut butter trees may also develop leaf spot diseases, which should be treated by pruning dead leaves and applying a fungicide to the rest of the plant.

How to Get Peanut Butter Tree to Bloom

To achieve this plant's colorful show of berries, it is necessary to plant two clones to achieve fertilization and fruit set. This tree blooms throughout the summer, bearing white flowers that emerge from a green calyx. The calyx then turns deep pink or red as the flowers drop and bright blue berries appear. The leaves tend to die back with the first hard frost, but the colorful calyx and berries remain. Its leaves smell like popcorn, and its flowers smell like peanut butter, giving the plant its name.

Common Problems With Peanut Butter Tree

Typically, the peanut butter tree doesn't experience significant problems. Your plant should stay healthy throughout the season with the proper care and growing conditions. However, it's possible to run into a few common water issues.

Yellow Leaves

Your peanut butter tree may develop yellowed leaves when under-watered. Watering these plants with a drip irrigation system is beneficial to maintain consistent moisture without overwatering the soil.

Leaves Falling Off

It's normal for your peanut butter tree to drop its leaves in the winter, but early leaf drops may indicate that the temperatures are too cold in your area. You can cover your plant with burlap on nights with freezing temperatures to extend its bloom.

Wilted Leaves

Wilted leaves may indicate that the plant isn't receiving enough water. If your peanut butter tree's leaves are wilting when the soil is moist, it's likely overwatered. Inversely, the canopy may also wilt when the ground becomes extremely dry.

FAQ
  • How long can peanut butter tree live?

    Peanut butter trees can live for decades.

  • What plants are similar to peanut butter trees?

    Like the peanut butter tree, popcorn senna (Cassia didymobotrya) offers a peanut butter scent. However, some people find the plant to smell like a wet dog or mice.

  • Can peanut butter trees grow indoors?

    Peanut butter trees can grow indoors when outdoor conditions aren't ideal, but growers should keep in mind that this plant can reach up to 15 feet tall at maturity—so pruning is paramount. Due to its toxicity, it may be wise to keep the plant outdoors, away from children and pets.

Article Sources
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  1. Peanut Butter Shrub (Clerodendrum trichotomum). The Natural Gardening Association.