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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - July 17, 2012

From: Canby, OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Shrubs
Title: Non-native, invasive peanut butter tree from Canby, OR
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I too have a peanut butter tree with the pink and white blooms, its about 5 years old and is beautiful, but 2 weeks ago it started wilting and losing all its leaves, I am afraid it is dying. Can I save it??

ANSWER:

We have two problems with answering this question: The first problem is that there are two plants that have as one of their common names "Peanut Butter."

Bunchosia argentia, peanut butter tree: Plant family Malpighiaceae, native to Venezuela and Colombia. Small orange edible fruits, flavor resembling figs or peanut butter, with peanut butter scent. USDA Hardiness Zones 10a to 11. From Dave's Garden, this comment from a contributor living in Oregon:

"I am adding this note for clarification. I live in Portland, Oregon where we have "Peanut Butter Trees". I know because I have one. However, it is NOT the same as this tree. The tree I am referring to is called Japanese Clerodendrum, Peanut Butter Shrub, Harlequin Glory Bower, Clerodendrum trichotomum. The difference is that when you rub a leaf between your fingers, it smells of peanut butter...the tree is not tropical...the flowers are white or pink clusters...and the berries are dark red, almost black. I hope this helps others who are looking for information on the other "Peanut Butter Tree."

Clerodendrum trichotomum, Japanese Clerodendrum, Harlequin Glorybower, Peanut Butter shrub, native to Japan and China. Plant Family Verbenaceae, hardy in Zones 6a to 9b, considered invasive.

So, answering Problem No. 1, we're guessing that what you have is Clerodendrum trichotomum. Clackamas County is in USDA Hardiness Zone 8b, which makes it unlikely that the more tropical Bunchosia argentea could survive in your area. There were several mentions in the research we did of this being a suckering shrub, with the potential to be invasive.

Problem No. 2 is that neither of these plants is native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants grow naturally. So, we have no information on either plant in our Native Plant Database, nor do we have any personal experience with them.

From Fine Gardening, here is an article on Clerodendrum trichotomum. Sudden leaf wilting on any shrub is usually the result of damage to the tree, an assault by insects or an accidental spraying of herbicide from some nearby area.

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