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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Clerodendrons grow nicely in Island gardens

By Heidi Bornhorst

The glory bower, also called bleeding heart, is a tough and hardy shrub that can be trained into growing as a flowering hedge.

Heidi Bornhorst

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Clerodendrons are nice, tough flowering plants for Hawai'i gardens. Also known as glory bower or bleeding heart, they grow as vines, shrubs and trees and all are in the Verbenaceae family. They are also multicultural the red-and-white-flowered Clerodendron Thomsoniae is from western Africa and grows here; its Hawaiian name is ho 'eha pu'uwai.

An exceptional variety of bleeding heart is C. quadriloculare. A native of the Philippines, it grows beautifully as flowering hedges by the Komodo dragon exhibit at the Honolulu Zoo. Horticulturist Ron Kodama grooms and trims this one in the full sun to a state of glory.

We grew it at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. In that wet, fertile soil and microclimate, it became a 20-foot tall beast, and the running roots helped it get weedy, wild and out of control. Yikes! Basal haircut with a chainsaw, root it out and confine it to a pot. Give it to your auntie in 'Ewa, and it will be fine and manageable.

So far, it doesn't set seed in Hawai'i, maybe for lack of a pollinator. This is a good thing it won't become an alien invader of our native Hawaiian forests. The plant can be grown easily from cuttings or root suckers.

Bleeding heart is a signature plant at the Hale Koa hotel, where it grows as a tough, manageable flowering hedge and a respite for shade plants. Expert gardeners like Magdalena Ku'ulei Bilermo know how to manage, groom and control this "wannabe wild child" of a great garden plant.

It has broad paddle-shaped leaves that are dull green on top, and reddish-purple on the underside. When grown in rich, well-drained organic soil in a sunny spot, the plant will be profuse with clusters of long, white flowers with pink highlights they're a real show-stopper.

The fuzzy-leaved pagoda flower or lau'awa, C. buchanan-ii, is a gorgeous orange version. Why the name? The flowers are arranged like a pagoda. This one spreads by root suckers, too.

C. speciosissimum, the Java glory bean or mata ajam, is native to that island and makes a nice potted plant, a highlight in the landscape or a whole hedge of orange flowers.

The bigger ones, in ideal growing conditions like in Mountain View on the Big Island, grow into a nice pyramidal or pagoda-shaped head of individual flowers.

Wild pikake, or pikake hohono, also is a clerodendron. In high school (when we couldn't afford real pikake), my friend since kindergarten, Susan Largosa, and I would pick the flowers. We thought we were so decorated and gorgeous with wild pikake around our necks and in our hair.

Heidi Bornhorst is a sustainable-landscape consultant. Submit questions to islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com or Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. Letters may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.