Viburnums for Iowa

The uses for viburnums are almost as numerous as the species available. In the home landscape, viburnums can be used as hedges, screens, and specimen plants. They are also excellent additions to wildlife plantings. Several viburnums are native to Iowa and suitable for naturalized areas. There are well over 30 species in cultivation and most viburnums provide excellent, year-round interest. Beautiful flower clusters appear in spring, followed by ornamental fruit in late summer and colorful foliage at the end of the season. Most viburnums perform best in well-drained soils and full to part-sun. However, several grow well in partial shade. They range in size from 4- to 6-foot-tall shrubs to small, 15- to 20-foot trees. Some have wonderfully fragrant flowers, others produce edible fruit. Many provide ample food for birds in winter. Any of the viburnums listed below would be a welcome addition in an Iowa landscape.

Burkwood Viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii)

Burkwood viburnum is an upright to rounded, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Wonderfully fragrant flowers are produced in snowball- shaped clusters in April. The flower clusters consist of pink buds, which develop into white flowers. Fruit are red and turn black with age. Leaves are glossy, dark green and turn a burgundy color in the fall. Burkwood viburnum is one of the best snowball type viburnums for Iowa.

Koreanspice Viburnum (V. carlesii)

The Koreanspice viburnum is a rounded shrub with dull, green leaves that grows 4 to 8 feet tall with a similar spread. Plants bloom in late April and May with semi-snowball type flower clusters. The pink flower buds open to white flowers. The flowers's spicy-sweet fragrance is unsurpassed. The fruit change from red to black, but are not as showy as other viburnums. Fall leaf color, on occasion, is red. Koreanspice viburnum is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5.

Arrowwood Viburnum (V. dentatum)

Arrowwood Viburnum is a rounded, dense shrub with arching branches. Coarsely toothed, glossy green leaves turn yellow to reddish purple in the fall. In late May and early June, flat-topped white flower clusters are produced. The flowers are followed by berry-like fruit which turn blue in late summer. Plants grow 6 to 8 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide. Arrowwood viburnum is native and a staple in many Iowa landscapes.

Judd Viburnum (V. x juddii)

The result of a cross between V. carlesii and V. bitchiuense, the Judd viburnum is very similar in size, habit, flowering, and fragrance to Koreanspice viburnum. The Judd viburnum is preferred over Koreanspice viburnum in Iowa because of its hardiness and adaptability. This shrub grows 6 feet tall with a similar spread. Plants produce few, if any, fruit.

Wayfaringtree Viburnum (V. lantana)

Wayfaringtree viburnum is a stout, rounded, coarsely-branched, large shrub with dark green, pubescent (hairy) leaves. It produces flat-topped, white flower clusters in May. The fruit change from yellow to red to black. Often all colors are present in a single fruit cluster. Leaves often turn purple-red before dropping in November. Plants grow 10 to 15 feet tall. Its common name comes from the plant's tendency to spread by seed.

Nannyberry Viburnum (V. lentago)

Growing 15 to 20 feet tall, nannyberry viburnum is a small tree or a large shrub. Flat clusters of creamy white flowers in May give rise to bluish-black fruit in the fall. Leaves are glossy, dark green and turn purplish red in the fall. Plants are susceptible to powdery mildew. Though not a serious health threat, powdery mildew does detract from the plant's appearance. When planting, avoid shady areas where powdery mildew is more prevalent. Nannyberry viburnum is a suckering, adaptable, native shrub that is well suited to naturalizing and wildlife plantings.

European Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. opulus)

European cranberrybush viburnum is an upright, spreading, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 8 to 12 feet tall. White flowers are produced in flat-topped clusters during May. The three-lobed, maple-like leaves are dark green in summer. Fall leaf color is often poor, occasionally turning yellow to reddish purple. The fruit turn bright red in late summer and persist into winter.

Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum)

Doublefile viburnum is a large shrub/small tree reaching 8 to 10 feet tall with a unique horizontal, tiered branching habit. White, flat flower clusters are produced in May. The flower clusters are held above the foliage on 2-inch-long stalks. The flowers are followed by egg-shaped fruit that turn bright red in late summer. The fruit remain showy until eaten by birds. Dark green leaves are deeply veined and turn reddish purple in the fall. Doublefile viburnum is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5.

Blackhaw Viburnum (V. prunifolium)

The rounded, stiffly branched habit of Blackhaw viburnum is reminiscent of a Hawthorn. It is often grown as a small tree as plants attain a height of 12 to 15 feet. The dark green, glossy, leathery leaves turn a dark reddish-purple in the fall. Creamy white flowers are borne in flat-topped flower clusters during May. The fruit turn blue-black at maturity and are edible. The mature fruit make good preserves. Plants are native and tolerate shade but flower and fruit best in full sun.

Sargent Viburnum (V. sargentii)

Sargent viburnum is a rounded, coarse shrub that grows 12 to 15 feet tall. Plants produce white flowers in flat-topped clusters in May. Afterwards, berry-like fruit develop which turn bright red in late summer. Its three-lobed leaves are medium to dark green in summer. Fall color is often poor. The leaves, flowers, and fruit are similar to that of American and European cranberrybush viburnums. However, sargent viburnum is larger, coarser, and more vigorous than the cranberrybush viburnums.

Siebold Viburnum (V. sieboldii)

Siebold viburnum may grow 15 to 20 feet tall and is utilized as a large shrub or small tree. Glossy green leaves develop little or no fall color before dropping off late in the season. Flat-topped flower clusters cover plants in May and June. The oval-shaped fruit turn bright red in late summer. The fruit are borne on long, bright red stalks that remain several weeks after the fruit have been devoured by birds.

American Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum)

The leaves, flowers, and fruit of the American cranberrybush viburnum are very similar to those of European cranberrybush. These native plants grow 8 to 12 feet tall with a similar spread. The fall leaf color of the American cranberrybush is superior to that of the European species. Fall foliage varies from yellow to orange to reddish purple. American cranberrybush also has fewer pest problems. Better fall color along with greater pest resistance make the American cranberrybush a better species for Iowa.

For more information on viburnums consult the following references.

  • Deciduous Shrubs PM 1943 Iowa State University extension publication available at the county extension office.
  • Dirr, M. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.5th Edition 1998. Stipes Publishing, Champaign, IL.
  • Dirr, M. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs. 1997. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
  • Rose, N., Selinger, D., Whitman, J. Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates. 2001. Contemporary Publishing, Lincolnwood, IL.
Plant Species Flower / Cluster Size Fruit Fall Color Height/Width USDA Hardiness Zone
V. x burkwoodii
Pink opening to white
Red turning black Burgundy 8'-10'/6'-8' 4 to 8
V. carlesii
Pink opening to white
Red turning black Reddish orange 4'-8'/4'-8' 5 to 7
V. dentatum
Creamy white
Blue Yellow to red 6'-8'/8'-10' 3 to 8
V. x juddii
Pink opening to white
Black Green,sometimes red 6'/6' 4 to 8
V. lantana
Creamy white
Yellow to red to black Purplish-red
4 to 7
V. lentago
Creamy white
Bluish-black Purplish-red 15'-20'/10'+
quite variable
3 to 7
European Cranberrybush
V. opulus
Red Red-purple
sometimes green
3 to 8
V. plicatum var. tomentosum
Bright red Reddish-purple 8'-10'/
5 to 7
V. prunifolium
Creamy white
Pink turning
bluish black
Purple to
reddish purple
3 to 9
V. sargentii
Scarlet Yellow to reddish 12'-15'/
4 to 7
V. sieboldii
Creamy white
Red turning black Green 15'-20'/
4 to 7
American Cranberrybush
V. trilobum
Bright red Red-purple 8'-12'/8-12' 2 to 7

This article originally appeared in the 7/16/2004 issue.


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