Cascades of delicate but showy flowers are the calling card of this otherwise unremarkable deciduous shrub. Its botanical name, Clerodendrum trichotomum, comes from the Greek words "kleros" which means chance or destiny, and "dendron" meaning tree, leading to one of the plant's slightly less common names, "fate tree."
The common name "peanut butter bush" refers to the unusual (and some say unpleasant) scent emitted by the leaves when they are crushed. The flowers, however, have a lovely sweet fragrance similar to summersweet, another pollinator-friendly shrub that blooms at the same time. Fast-growing peanut butter bush is sometimes known as "bleeding heart vine" due to its bright-red calyxes, but this name is more commonly used to refer to its close relative Clerodendrum thomsoniae.
Peanut butter bush is virtually disease and pest-free. The flowers, which are rich with nectar, attract bees, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies. The berries attract many birds, so it is a useful wildlife food plant to have in your garden. Plant your peanut butter bush in the spring.
|Botanical Name||Clerodendrum trichotomum|
|Common Name||Peanut butter bush, fate tree|
|Plant Type||Deciduous shrub|
|Mature Size||10-15 ft. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Soil pH||4.6-5.0 (neutral, acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Mid-to-late summer|
|Flower Color||White, showy deep-pink calyx|
|Hardiness Zones||6b-10 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and India|
|Toxicity||Berries and seeds are toxic to humans and animals if ingested; handling may irritate skin|
Peanut Butter Bush Care
This shrub puts on quite a performance through the season, with white flowers emerging from a green calyx in early summer. The calyx then turns deep-pink to red as the flowers drop off and bright blue berries emerge, attracting a variety of birds. The blue color is from a naturally occurring pigment called trichtomine, giving this plant its full botanical name. The leaves tend to die back with the first hard frost, but the colorful calyx and berries remain.
These ornamental flowering shrubs like to grow in tropical areas but some newer cultivars such as 'Betty Stiles' are hardy to zone 6b, meaning they can flourish as far north as New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Peanut butter bush grows profusely, and sometimes somewhat aggressively. In order to achieve this plant's colorful show of berries, it is necessary to plant two clones to achieve fertilization and fruit-set.
Peanut butter bush does best with full sun, but in hotter zones some afternoon shade might be advisable to keep the flowers from wilting too fast in mid-summer. At least six hours of direct sunlight brings out bigger flowers and berries.
This plant likes a rich, loamy, slightly sandy, well-drained soil. Persistently soggy soil can cause root-rot or other damage, so choose the planting location well.
These shrubs are fairly drought tolerant and should not need extra watering unless there is an unusually dry spring or summer, in which case they may benefit from irrigation.
Temperature and Humidity
Since these plants are not super cold-hardy, early or late frost can affect their growth cycle: A late spring frost may kill flower buds that have already emerged, so cover them if this occurs. Early frost in autumn, however, will merely cause the green leaves to wither and drop off and not otherwise harm the plant. The cooler your growing zone, the more aggressively this plant will put out suckers that will need to be firmly controlled by pruning.
You may find that your peanut butter bush benefits from a light application of water-soluble fertilizer in spring to promote more abundant flower blooms and berries. Stop fertilizing once the flowering period is over.
Peanut butter bush sends out many suckers which should be removed every season, in spring or fall, to temper its invasive tendencies. This shrub can be pruned into a tree form with careful pruning done early in the season. It can also just fulfill its natural shrub shape and will need minimal pruning, mostly for dead or damaged growth in spring before blossoms form. Pruning young shoots before they become branches helps to maintain a pleasing shape to this shrub.
Propagating Peanut Butter Bush
This plant may be propagated by root cuttings or semi-hardwood cuttings in spring. You can apply root hormone powder to the cutting and root in potting mix, then transfer to a larger container. This plant does best in the ground but it can be grown in containers, which is useful if you want to move it to a more protected area for overwintering.
How to Grow Peanut Butter Bush From Seed
While it's possible to grow this plant from seeds, germination can be very slow and often fails to occur, making it a frustrating process. For successful seed germination, sow seeds in a greenhouse immediately after collection and maintain the temperature at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Given the right conditions, the seeds will germinate within 20 to 60 days. When the seedlings are large enough to handle (at least 1-inch high), transfer to individual pots.
Since this plant is somewhat frost-sensitive, it's not a bad idea to overwinter it in a greenhouse or warm area of the home, but that's only practical if it's grown in a container. Planting near a warmer zone (such as next to a brick building or concrete foundation) may help prevent frost damage as long as you're still in the appropriate growing zone. If your winter weather looks like it may threaten the plant, cover loosely with burlap to prevent frost damage or freezing.