Clerodendrum glabrum var. glabrum is a shrub or small to medium sized, deciduous tree that grows from 2 m to 10 m in height, rarely reaching 20 m (SA Tree List No. 667). Only var. glabrum occurs in South Africa, along the east coast from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal into tropical Africa. It grows within reach of the salty spray of the sea and generally in coastal evergreen thicket to the Drakensberg foothills. There are also some of these trees in a discrete distribution in the north of Limpopo.
C. glabrum var. glabrum played a big role in human life in its distribution area when people lived close to nature: It may (still) serve in repelling insects, polecats and hyenas. The pungent, foul smell of the leaves when crushed is well remembered in the Afrikaans name of stinkboom (stinking tree).
But of more mysterious significance to some: it has a reputation of being used by witches! Many medicines have been concocted from parts of this tree in the past, those treated very long ago all dead. This casts no aspersions on the tree’s reputation, people being so short-lived compared to some citizens of tree world.
Some part(s) of the tree have also served to kill… intestinal worms in children and calves. Kraals in shallow seawater to capture fish at low tide have been made (or are still sometimes made), using sticks of this tree. Also to build huts.
Field craft comes and goes in cultures and regions over time, people sometimes dying in circumstances where others, including their grandfathers (or grandchildren) would succeed.
Good for lighting fires, the South African variety of C. glabrum bears yet another name, tinderwood (in Afrikaans tontelboom), showing why it is so good to know plants when living in the bush. Also good for treating snakebite, but one still needs to know what part to use and how, other than beating the snake (or the victim) with a stick.
It may for instance also be useful to know that rubbing the crushed leaves of this tree on ones face and arms repels bees when collecting honey from a hive (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Pooley, 1993; www.plantzafrica.com).