The Plant Native

Viburnum

Highlights

Viburnums are a beloved group of plants for a reason: they change dramatically throughout the year, offering cinematic landscaping. (This is a big advantage over boring evergreen choices like boxwoods and yews.) Viburnums go from leaves > to flowers > to berries > to fiery fall foliage. They are a go-to for professional landscapers for their ease of care and beauty.

There are 150+ viburnum species worldwide with several native to North America (not including cultivars). Scroll on to meet some favorites.

Full Sun – Part Shade
6-18′ tall, depending on species
Host
plant
Viburnum genus
Arrowwood Viburnum can give non-native hydrangeas a run for their money!

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native viburnums

Table of Contents

Viburnums are beloved worldwide, but sadly the Asian species have taken the spotlight when it comes to landscaping. Let’s turn that around! Several native viburnums are just as gorgeous as non-native viburnums and offer lots more benefits for North American gardeners.

So, you may be wondering…

What’s the benefit of planting native viburnums?

Planting native instead of non-native viburnums offers so many benefits:

  • Super low maintenance: Native viburnums need minimal care to thrive. This is difference from some non-native viburnums, which can requite fertilizers or special care.
  • It’s a bird magnet. Native viburnums cover themselves in berries in the fall, which attract birds like the phoebe, mockingbird, robin, brown thrasher, northern flicker, cardinal, cedar waxwing, vireo, bluebird, and grosbeak (list from Brooklyn Botanic Garden).
  • Comes back year after year: this is a perennial plant that comes back year after year, each year getting bigger and better. So plant once and enjoy for years!

And one more reason…

Native viburnums are host plants

Host plants are specific plants that a bug or butterfly lays its eggs on, and its caterpillars eat. (Here’s a short host plant overview.) They are powerful choices for our landscaping because they ensure iconic native species thrive.

Meet the beautiful Spring Azure butterfly

Host plants = native plants

Native viburnums are the host plants for many beautiful creatures, including the Spring Azure butterfly. Every native viburnum you plant helps ensure that mom Spring Azures have a place to lay their eggs, and their baby caterpillars have food to eat.

Now that we know some reasons why to plant native viburnums, let’s meet some options to consider:

Native North-American viburnums

Gorgeous and edible!

American Cranberry Bush / Cranberry Viburnum

Viburnum trilobum

Stop everything you’re doing and plant this one immediately: it’s gorgeous AND the fruits are edible to humans! They can grow up to 12′ high, making them great for hedgerows and living fences.

Although it’s often called a “cranberry bush” these fruits are NOT cranberries—they are viburnum berries! They taste like tart cherries and are most often used for making jams and pies (sugar helps.)

Arrowwood Viburnum looks gorgeous year-round

Arrowwood Viburnum

Viburnum dentatum

Arrowwood’s name comes from its super straight branches, which were used by Native Americans to make arrows. In the fall, its leaves turn into orange-red gradients alongside blue-colored berries. It gets 6-12′ tall.

Arrowwood Viburnums can be planted almost anywhere—full sun, part shade, etc—making them perfect for beginner gardeners.

An Eastern Bluebird chows down on some Southern Blackhaw Viburnum berries

Blackhaw Viburnum + Southern Blackhaw Viburnum

Viburnum prunifolium +  Viburnum rufidulum

Blackhaw and Southern Blackhaw Viburnums turn into small trees, topping out around 20′. Their leaves put on a dramatic show in the fall, turning deep shades of purple-red. The fruits are also edible, although many garden books and blogs advise it may be hard to get to the berries before the birds do.

Maple-leaved Viburnum = beauty + birds

Maple-Leaved Viburnum

Viburnum acerifolium

This is a smaller shrub (topping out around 6′) that loves wet areas. It’s leaves remind you instantly of maple trees (hence the name) and it also turns dramatic shades of red/orange in the fall. It’s a great choice to pair with lots of native perennial flowers.

A Southern Master Gardener shares an overview of native viburnums in this video:

What are good pairings for native viburnums?

Whenever planting a garden, you want to ensure there is always something to look at, no matter the season. The following native plants offer lots of seasonal beauty alongside native resilience:

Native flowers for the spring

Heuchera 'Green-Spice' by Patrick Standish

Alum Root (Heuchera)

amsonia-flowers-in-the-spring-native-garden

Amsonia

flame-azalea-native-plant-shrub

Azalea

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Bee Balm

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Blue-Eyed Grass

carolina-jessamine-on-a-fence-native-vine

Carolina Jessamine

Native flowers for the summer

Native flowers for the fall

In conclusion, somehow non-native viburnums have gotten the landscaping spotlight over the years—it’s time to turn that around! Native viburnums deliver beauty, fuss-free gardening, AND magical host plant powers. They are a no-brainer when it comes to landscaping for yards or parks. Enjoy the beauty, butterflies, and birds whenever you plant native viburnums. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
04/19/2024
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