Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hairy Lolly Bush

Clerodendrum tomentosum
I didn’t include this shrub in my book “Toowoomba Plants...Trees and Shrubs”, despite its obvious ornamental potential. I was concerned that with use of it as a garden plant, children might poison themselves by eating the fruit.
I had come across contradictory statements - that it was poisonous, and that it was edible. I thought that the fruits smelled so foul that no children would ever be likely to put them in their mouths. A friend said that he thought they smelled like chocolate!
I still think it smells like nothing I want in my mouth, and can only suggest that you sniff some for yourselves and decide whether you think these are suitable and safe garden plants. Now is the time to do it, as the fruits are out all around the district.
The plants are not conspicuously hairy. The fine hairiness is only discovered when we feel the leaves, (They feel feel like puppy’s ears.) Hence the name. They have showy clusters of sweet-smelling white flowers in spring, followed by these even more showy fruits.
In the bush they grow as very small trees or as scruffy shrubs. At their best, though, t they are pruned to waist height, and make neat, dense shrubs. They tend to sucker, and can regrow if cut (or burned) back to their roots.
The tuberous roots were eaten by the aborigines, which I would guess might be the origin of the “edible fruit” story. Perhaps the plant found its way onto a list, somewhere, of edible plants, and someone inferred that it was the fruits that were edible. But if anyone anywhere can set me straight on that I’d love to hear from you!
The photo at the bottom was taken at Ravensbourne in February last year, (at the entry to the track at Beutel’s Lookout). It is probably in fruit there again this year.

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