On Gardening: Make room, literally, for this expansive tropical shrub

September 7, 2015

Giant heart-shaped leaves and a cluster of a hundred salmon coral flowers in a pagoda-shaped panicle make the Starshine clerodendrum among the most exotic shrubs for the tropical garden. I first saw this variety a few years ago at the Universtiy of Georgia Plant Trials in Athens, Ga. I knew if I was seeing it there it had dynamite potential in many parts of the country. It does and, as expected, it is growing superbly at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Ga., too.

Starshine is a variety of Clerodendrum paniculatum native to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. I have always been a Clerodendrum nut even loving those that others considered invasive. When I first started writing, Clerodendrums were in the verbena family but as technology advanced it necessitated the move a few years ago to the Lamiaceae or mint family.

Starshine, like the other pagoda flowers you might find, are cold-hardy from zones 8-11. In frost free areas you will find some gardeners who think the voluntary spread is not worth it, but most treasure the tropical appeal. In zone 8 it will freeze to the ground and return with vigor in the spring. It will be blooming by mid-summer and keep it up until frost.

Those of you in colder zones may want to try it on the south side of your home or other protected micro-climate with an added layer of mulch, and if you get a spring return, consider it an added bonus. You can do what we are doing for another clerodendrum I love by the name of Java gloryblower.

Java glorybower is known botanically as Clerodendrum speciosissimum and as the name suggest is native to Java. Bright scarlet-red flowers are produced on large panicles that are flattened on top versus the pagoda shape of Starshine.

We are growing ours in a raised planter or box that is about 36 inches off the ground. Around the base of the shrub we are growing frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, whose tiny white flowers bring in small bees and butterflies. Growing in a planter box signifies it will be treated as an annual or dug and placed somewhere else when we switch out to pansies and dianthus for winter. Know that to me, both of these clerodendums would be worthy annuals in the garden with the same mindset one has for a petunia basket or perhaps a tropical hibiscus.

When you find yours, plant in a bed where the soil is fertile and organic rich. Though I have seen both performing in full sun, I like their look where they get a little afternoon shade or filtered light. This protection from our intense afternoon sun seems to produce a much-lusher specimen, reminiscent of the islands.

These are not tiny plants. Iíve seen pagoda flowers well above a 6-foot stockade fence and know the Java glorybower can match. They will spread outward forming a clump and exhibiting enormous leaves that simply adds to the tropical motif, so give them adequate room.

Both are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds, so as you are choosing companions consider other such plants for both the look of paradise and those that will bring in the pollinators. Good choices would be Bengal Tiger cannas, Amistad salvia and tropical hibiscus. Plants like elephant ears and bananas with their coarse texture foliage will also enhance your corner of paradise.



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