Viburnum acerifolium in the spring
By Suzanne Wodek, Asheville Botanical Gardens
Viburnums come in many shapes and sizes, are easy to grow, adapt to many soil conditions, and do well in full sun to deep shade. Other attributes include a variety of spring flowers that produce berries, which appeal to birds and wildlife. I think it’s the great color—from yellow to red to burgundy in the fall—that makes these shrubs a year-round favorite of many gardeners. Here are a few native varieties recommended for the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Viburnum acerifolium. A small, rounded, deciduous, woodland shrub that typically grows to three to six feet tall and two to four feet wide with maple-like leaves, this variety is easy to grow in medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Tiny white flowers give way to pea-sized berries that are bluish-black when ripe in late summer. Its leaves produce excellent reddish-purple to magenta fall color. Acer is the genus for maple and folium means leaf. Prune if needed immediately after flowering. This shrub will naturalize by suckering to form colonies if suckers are not removed.
Viburnum alnifolium. Hobblebush or Witch hobble is a six- to ten-foot tall deciduous shrub that likes moist, well-drained average soil. It grows fine in either wet areas or dry areas, but grows larger in boggy conditions. It tolerates light shade, but the flat flower clusters and red-to-black berries are more prolific with as much light as possible. George Washington planted this variety at his Mt. Vernon home.
Viburnum dentatum. Arrowood is an upright, rounded, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub which typically matures to six to ten feet tall with a similar spread, but may reach a height of 15 feet in optimum growing conditions. Non-fragrant white flat-topped flowers produce blue-black berries. Oval, toothed, glossy dark green leaves change in color from drab yellow to attractive shades of orange and red in the fall. Native Americans reportedly used the straight stems of this shrub for arrow shafts, hence the common name.
Viburnum nudum. Southern Witherod is a dense, 12- to 20-foot tall shrub with upright stems that become arching with age. The showy flat-topped creamy white flowers are followed by red to blue, then black edible berries in summer. The foliage is smoother and shinier than other viburnums. The fall color is a vibrant reddish-purple. This species is adaptable to most soils but prefers wet, mucky, acid soils.
The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Check ashevillebotanicalgardens.org for a variety of education programs this month.