How to Grow and Care for Peanut Butter Bush

harlequin glorybower star-shaped flower

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Peanut butter bush (Clerodendrum trichotomum) is a deciduous shrub known for the unusual peanut butter scent emitted by its dark green, ovate leaves when they are crushed. While some gardeners find this smell unpleasant, the tubular flowers of this bush offer a lovely sweet fragrance. The cascades of its delicate, showy flowers make the peanut butter bush a unique and attractive plant to grow.

Many people also know this plant by the name of harlequin glorybower. Its botanical name, Clerodendrum trichotomum, comes from the Greek words "kleros" (meaning chance or destiny) and "dendron" (meaning tree), leading to one of the plant's slightly less common name, "fate tree."

This fast-growing species should be planted in the spring. However, keep in mind that peanut butter bush is toxic to humans and animals, so it should be planted out of reach of children and pets. 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.

Common Name Peanut butter bush, harlequin glorybower, fate tree
Botanical Name Clerodendrum trichotomum
Family Verbenaceae
Plant Type Perennial, shrub
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, toxic to pets

Peanut Butter Bush Care

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. This species grows profusely, and sometimes somewhat aggressively, so it does best when given plenty of space in the yard.

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

Warning

Peanut butter bush, or harlequin glorybower, 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

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 midsummer. At least six hours of direct sunlight is ideal to yield larger flowers and berries.

Soil

This species likes rich, loamy, slightly sandy, well-drained soil. Persistently soggy soil can cause root rot or other damage, so choose the planting location well. Avoid planting peanut butter bush at the bottom of hills or in areas of your yard that tend to collect water during heavy rains.

Water

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 an irrigation system. About 1 inch of water per week should suffice; however, if the soil does not quickly absorb it, cut back on watering and monitor your plant's growth.

Temperature and Humidity

Peanut butter bush is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 10, surviving temperatures as low as negative 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Since these plants are not cold-hardy to very harsh winters, 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 frost is in the forecast. Early frost in autumn, however, will merely cause the green leaves to wither and drop off and not otherwise harm the plant. Your peanut butter bush will do best in humid climates, though this is not necessary for it to survive.

Fertilizer

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. 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 Bush

  • Clerodendrum trichotomum 'Betty Stiles': This variety of peanut butter bush looks the same, but it is considered to be a better option in colder regions thanks to its hardiness.
  • Clerodendrum trichotomum 'Stargazer': Yellow patches around the edges of this variety's leaves make it stand out from standard peanut butter bush plants.
  • Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii: Also known as Farges harlequin glorybower, this variety grows smaller than its relatives.

Pruning

Peanut butter bush sends out 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.

This shrub can be shaped into a tree form with careful pruning done early in the season. It can also 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 the pleasing shape of this shrub.

Propagating Peanut Butter Bush

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

  • Step 1: Prepare a container with well-drained soil.
  • Step 2: If taking semi-hardwood cuttings, trim a cutting from the end of a stem about 6 inches long with no leaves or stems protruding. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone. If taking root cuttings, trim a cutting at least 4 inches long. Make a second cut at an angle on the bottom end of the root.
  • Step 3: 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.
  • Step 4: When the cuttings have rooted, transplant them to larger containers or into your garden and care for them as usual. 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 Bush From Seed

While it's possible to grow this plant from seeds, germination can be very slow and often fails to occur. It's best to use a greenhouse when growing peanut butter bush from seeds to maintain consistently humid conditions and warm temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This species also needs to be overwintered in the greenhouse during its first year for best results.

Once you collect seeds from your peanut butter bush, plant them in the greenhouse as soon as you can. Provide full sun during the germination process (and once the plants are mature, whenever possible). Within 20 to 60 days, your plants should germinate. They can be replanted in larger containers once they reach a sturdy height of at least 1 inch tall.

Potting and Repotting Peanut Butter Bush

If you don't live within its hardiness zones, you can still grow peanut butter bush in pots so it can be brought indoors for the winter. However, keep in mind that this species can reach 15 feet tall, so it will eventually outgrow your home without a proper greenhouse to keep it in. Peanut butter bush also requires significant pruning to prevent it from overtaking its pot.

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

Overwintering

Since peanut butter bush is somewhat frost-sensitive, it's not a bad idea to overwinter your plant 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 it loosely with burlap to prevent frost damage or freezing.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The peanut butter bush is usually disease and pest-free, however, it can sometimes be susceptible to pests like aphids and whiteflies. Thankfully, this can easily be controlled with an application of insecticidal soap. Treat your plant with ingredients at home by mixing 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap into 1 gallon of water, then spraying the plant down. Peanut butter bush 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 Bush to Bloom

In order to achieve this plant's colorful show of berries, it is necessary to plant two clones to achieve fertilization and fruit-set.

This shrub puts on quite a performance through the season, growing white flowers that emerge from a green calyx in early summer. The calyx then turns deep pink or red as the flowers drop off and bright blue berries emerge. These berries attract 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.

Its flowers, which are rich with nectar, attract bees, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies. They smell similar to summersweet, another pollinator-friendly shrub that blooms at the same time. The berries attract many birds, so it is a useful wildlife food plant to have in your garden.

Common Problems With Peanut Butter Bush

Typically, the peanut butter bush doesn't experience significant problems. When provided with the right care and growing conditions, your plant should stay healthy throughout the season. However, it's possible to run into a few common issues that typically involve water.

Yellow Leaves

Your peanut butter bush may develop yellowed leaves when it's underwatered, indicating that your plant needs a drink. It's especially helpful to water these plants via a drip irrigation system that can maintain consistent moisture without overwatering the soil.

Leaves Falling Off

It's normal for your peanut butter bush to drop its leaves in the winter, but early leaf drop may indicate that the temperatures are too cold in your area for this species to last a full growing season. You can cover your plant with burlap on nights with freezing temperatures to extend the season.

Wilted Leaves

Wilted leaves also indicate that the plant isn't receiving the correct amount of water. If your peanut butter bush plant's leaves are wilting when the soil is moist, it's likely overwatered. On the other hand, the canopy may also wilt when the soil becomes extremely dry.

FAQ
  • How long can peanut butter bush live?

    Peanut butter bushes (harlequin glorybower) have been known to live for decades. In the early stages of your plant's life, it should take about three years for the bush to bear fruit.

  • What plants are similar to peanut butter bush?

    The peanut butter bush has special leaves that smell like peanut butter, and another plant called Cassia didymobotrya also offers this scent. However, this species smells like peanut butter on its flowers rather than its leaves.

  • Can peanut butter bush grow indoors?

    Peanut butter bush 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 a necessity when keeping it inside. It's also worth noting that, due to its toxicity, the plant should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.

Article Sources
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  1. Peanut Butter Shrub (Clerodendrum trichotomum). The National Gardening Association Plants Database.