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All About Native Viburnums

Viburnums are a big group encompassing many different forms, but there are a few features they almost all share in common – spring or early summer flowers (almost always white or ivory), showy berries, and colorful fall foliage. There are several Viburnum species native to our area, and all make great sources of bird food and wildlife habitat. Keep in mind that they need cross-pollination in order to fruit, so use two different varieties of the same type of Viburnum (for example, two different varieties of Arrowwood will cross-pollinate each other). Flowers are just as showy as the non-native types, but do not have the classic fragrance that those familiar with other Viburnums might expect (if anything, the scent’s a bit musky). They produce a lot more berries, though, and whether for decoration or wildlife, this alone make them worth trying. All of these species might sucker if they’re happy, but don’t worry about them taking over. They would look lovely underplanted with ferns, sedges, and flowering perennials, and co-habitate well with other mildly-suckering native shrubs that draw wildlife like Summersweet, Buttonbush, Sweetspire, Elderberry, and Sumac.

Arrowwood Viburnum

Named for the tendency for stems to grow straight and rapidly (they make good arrows, apparently), their leaves have serrated edges and a rippled textrue that’s most evident in spring as they unfurl. Berries are an almost metallic deep blue or blue-black, and leaves turn a range of colors in fall, from gold, orange, scarlet and purplish-red. Happy in moist soils, they’re a great choice for rain gardens.

Witherod Viburnum

Smooth-edged leaves with glossy tops identifies witherod, who develops some of the most impressive berry clusters, ripening from pink to rich blue. Leaves turn burgundy, red or burnt-orange in fall. Plants are very tolerant of wet conditions, even being found sprouting in shallow water in swampy areas or under minor seasonal flooding. If you only have room for one, the variety ‘Brandywine’ is the most likely to produce a decent crop of berries when planted by itself, but the berry-set is always best when there’s cross-pollination.

Cranberrybush Viburnum

Named for the cranberry-like bright red berry clusters (though they’re not related), the leaves resemble maple and turn red-orange in the fall. Flowers look like a smaller version of a white lacecap hydrangea and appear in late spring. 

Possumhaw/Blackhaw Viburnum

Possomhaw / Blackhaw
An uninspiring name for a lovely large shrub or small tree with larger berries that ripen from pink to blue-black. Foliage resembles the smaller, smooth leaves of our native cherry, and turns reddish-purple in fall. We’ve never sampled them, but the berries are edible raw (some say after frost) or in preserves, though probably are best left to the birds. Lacy white flowers appear in late spring or early summer.

by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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