VIBURNUM nudum L.
smooth witherod, possumhaw, wild raisin, swamphaw
By Thelma Glover
Viburnum nudum is an attractive, hardy, native shrub that, unfortunately, isn’t likely to be offered at your local nursery. Like so many of our native shrubs it has been neglected by plantsmen in favor of the Asian species which are nice but certainly no more outstanding than our lovely native Viburnums. Were it growing on a mountain top in Japan or China, Viburnum nudum would be near the top of the list for introduction to the American landscape trade.
Most Viburnums make terrific garden plants because of their dependability and attractive flowers and fruits. Viburnum nudum is one of the most beautiful and hardy of the genus offering showy creamy white flowers in spring, glossy green foliage in the summer, edible, magnificent colored berries that the birds love, vibrant reddish purple leaf coloring in the fall, and wonderful upright structure and branch color in the winter. With its ease of propagation and its very speedy growth rate, coupled with its versatility for use in the landscape and adaptability to varied conditions of soil and light exposure this species is a natural for cultivation.
Viburnum nudum’s native habitat is usually associated with wetlands such as swamps, stream banks, creek bottoms and shrub-tree bogs from New England to Arkansas and south to Florida and Texas. Those Bot Soccers who visited the pitcher plant bog near Valdosta during the l998 Pilgrimage saw this species at the height of its blooming season scattered among the thousands of pitcher plants. Like a lot of our wetland species Viburnum nudum does not require boggy conditions; it is just as happy and thrives well in dry uplands.
Viburnums are members of the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle) Family which includes many attractive cultivated landscape plants. The generic name is the old Latin name for Viburnum lantana, the wayfaring tree. Nudum refers to the smooth leaves and branches.
DESCRIPTION: Viburnum nudum is a medium large deciduous shrub growing from 5-l5’ tall and half as wide. The egg-shaped leaves are smooth, lustrous dark green from 2-4” long and about half as wide. The margins can be entire or wavy edged but rarely toothed. The creamy white flowers which appear in late April in the Atlanta area are individually small but are grouped in large fertile flat head clusters that emerge after the foliage has expanded. The fruit which forms in late summer and early fall emerges light greenish yellow, progressives to pink or red before it turns to a glaucus deep blue at maturity. It does indeed resemble a raisin, hence one of the common names used by local people. Viburnum nudum is so similar in appearance to Viburnum cassinoides that some botanist merge the two, while some consider them two distinct species. Viburnum nudum usually grows larger than V. cassinoides with much more glossy leaves, a two week later blooming date and a more southern natural habitat range. Fruit and flowers are pretty much alike, but the peduncles supporting the inflorescence of Viburnum nudum are considerably longer than those of V. cassinoides.
CULTURE:Viburnum nudum likes full sun and average fertility garden soil. It tolerates lilght shade but flowers and fruit are more prolific with as much light as possible. It grows fine in either wet areas or dry areas but probably grows larger in boggy conditions. A specimen in the Perimeter College Botanical Garden growing in full sun and amended soil did not seem to notice the six week drought this summer. It had extra water only one time during this period. It responds to yearly fertilization and light pruning but even in the wild this species is dense and shaped well with no extra help.
PROPAGATION: Seeds of Viburnum nudum are viable and require no pretreatment for germination. However softwood cuttings are much faster and easier than seeds. Most Viburnums are easily rooted and very fast growing from cuttings made during mid summer. Viburnun nudum is no exception. It will give nearly 100% rooting success within a month from terminal softwood cuttings made in June or July. Over wintering is not a problem. Cuttings made in July produce a good gallon size garden ready plant by the following spring if the cuttings are fertilized with a slow release fertilizer during warm weather.
GARDEN USE: The size of Viburnum nudum makes it a perfect choice for all but the smallest of gardens. Even in a tiny garden it could be used as a small tree. Its upright habit and branch structure makes it agreeable for ‘treeing up’ to show off its attractive smooth, tan bark. Use it in groups in a shrub border or in a wet area. Because it will tolerate full sun or light shade, it makes a good transitional shrub when going from sunny areas to shady areas. Used in this way it combines well with wax myrtles, Agarista, and other Viburnum species. For a sunny exposure a stunning combination would be planting it with winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragantissima) and ‘Crimson Pigmy’ Barberry. Add a chinese Loropetalum and this area could be a study in contrast of texture and color.
Gardens of the Blue Ridge Apalachee Nursery P.O. Box 10 1333 Kimsey Dairy Rd. Pineola, NC 28662 Turtletown, TN 37391 (704) 733-2417 (423) 496-7246/5047
Georgia Perimeter College Native Plant Botanical Garden
3251 Panthersville Road
Decatur, GA 30034
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Gleason, H.A., 1952, New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY.
Godfrey, Robert K., 1988, Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama, UGA Press, Athens, GA.
Godfrey, Robert K. and Jean W. Wooten, 1981, Aquatic & Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States, UGA Press, Athens, Georgia.
Grimm, Wm. C., 1966, Recognizing Native Shrubs, The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, PA.
Johnson, A.T. and H.A. Smith, 1972, Plant Names Simplified, Landsmans Bookshop LTD, Herefordshire.