The White Butterfly Bush looks like an exquisite bridal bouquet.

Once thought to be poisonous, the Clerodendrum

calamitosu is now popular for its medicinal properties, writes Elaine Yim

I HAVE already written about six interesting shrubs and vines from the Clerodendrum genus in my previous articles. They are Clerodendrum incisum (do-re-mi flower), Clerodendrum ugandense (Blue Butterfly Bush), Clerodendrum wallichii (Bridal’s Veil), Clerodendrum paniculatum (Pagoda Flower/Panggil-panggil), Clerodendrum thomsoniae (Bleeding Heart Vine or Nona/Nyonya Makan Sirih) and Clerodendrum x speciosum (Red Bleeding Heart Vine).

Today, I would like to introduce another fascinating species of Clerodendrum. This evergreen shrub flowers the whole year round and is native to Malaysia and Indonesia. It is not only an ornamental but is also grown in home gardens as a medicinal herb for traditional remedies.

PLANT PROFILE:

Scientific name: Clerodendrum calamitosum

Synonym: Volkameria alternifolia

Common names: White Butterfly Bush, Melur Susun (Malay), Hua Shi Shu (Chinese)

Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Category: Evergreen, ever-flowering perennial

Origin: Java, Indonesia

The genus Clerodendrum consists of about 150-400 species of mostly tropical shrubs, climbers and small trees native to the tropical and temperate regions. The genus name is derived from the Greek word kleros for chance or fate, and dendron for tree.

The epithet calamitosum is probably derived from the Latin word calamitosus, meaning destructive. During the early days of its discovery, this species was thought to be poisonous, unlike the other known Clerodendrum species which had medicinal properties.

Clerodendrum calamitosum has many names. It is known as kembang bugang, kechi beling or kaji beling in Java and kayu gambir (Sumatra) waru doyong (Sunda), mata ayam (Bangka), gambir laut or bungan pangil (Maluku) and ketuwer (Ambon). The Chinese call it hua shi shu, meaning fossil plant.

During the colonial days, the Dutch in Indonesia called itGlaseterplant while the British called it White Butterfly Bush.

THE PLANT

Clerodendrum calamitosum is a small to medium-sized upright woody shrub that can grow to about 1-1.5m tall. It is commonly found in Java. It grows wild on the lowlands up to elevations of 700m above sea level on forest fringes, estates and plantations.

The leaves are oval-shaped with serrated margins and are arranged opposite one another. They are smooth on the upper side and coarse on the underside. New leaves are dark green and turn a pale green as they mature. Each leaf is about 10cm long and 6cm wide.

Flowers are produced on leaf axils in dense terminal inflorescences. They are creamy white, very showy and scented. The fragrance is more pronounced in the evening. There are five petals in each flower, fused into a 2-3 cm long tube. The style and stamens protrude, with the style extending 4-5cm, stamens 2-3cm and anthers 2-3mm. These flowers are arranged in masses in upright clusters and are exquisite, like a bridal bouquet.

The flowers wither off, leaving behind the sepals, which turn from pinkish green to a dark red as they mature. The fruit is a drupe or berry about 7-8mm in diameter. They turn dark purple to black when ripe. The berries attract birds while the flowers attract butterflies and moths.

TRADITIONAL USES

According to the Internet, in the olden days, it was one of the plants used by Javanese magicians for their glass-chewing tricks. The leaves and roots are used to treat dysentery, snake bites, kidney stones, fever and gonorrhoea. The plant is valued for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Chemical compounds present include saponin, flavonoid, polyphenol, alkaloid and potassium.

In India, the leaves and branches are used to make organic pesticide.

HOW TO GROW

It can be grown on the ground or in a container. You can use it as an informal screen or hedging plant.

The steps:

Propagation. You can buy a healthy plant from a nursery. It can also be propagated by stem cuttings which root easily.

Sunlight. Grow in shade or dappled sunlight. It can be grown in locations with as little as four hours of daily sunlight.

Soil. Rich and well drained.

Water. Water regularly. Do not let the soil dry out.

Fertilise. Apply a balanced compound fertiliser once a fortnight.

Pruning. Remove dead flowers and prune to keep plant neat and tidy.

Pest and diseases. Attracts the sphinx moth (Sphingidae family of hawk moth, sphinx moth and horn worms).

TIP

Always use a clean pair of shears when taking cuttings. Dip the 10-15cm cuttings into rooting hormone powder to speed up the rooting process before sticking them into wet soil.

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