This Showy Shrub Gives the Southern-Favorite Hydrangea a Run for Its Money
It’s a shrub! It’s a tree! It’s—viburnum?
If you’ve noticed tall woody plants blooming out in big, round clusters of white blossoms this spring, you’ve likely glimpsed snowball viburnum.
Common snowball viburnum
The name couldn’t be more apt. Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' is common snowball viburnum, and the shrub’s showy blossom clusters look like pristine white snowballs—in spring! This viburnum has been a popular planting since the 1500s, and it’s native to Europe and north Africa, as well as the central regions of Asia. Viburnum opulus has also been called “guelder rose,” a nod to the Dutch Gelderland, where it was once grown widely.
Chinese snowball viburnum
A closely related look-alike to common snowball viburnum is Viburnum macrocephalum, or Chinese snowball viburnum. These shrubs bloom out in snowy, fragrance-free blossoms come spring and are also a good choice for espaliered plantings. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, they have “spectacular big, rounded, 6- to 8-inch flower clusters that bloom in spring (or any time during warm weather); they are composed of sterile flowers that start out lime-green and change to white.”
Viburnums are shrubs, but they can grow to be quite tall and have been known to reach heights of 20 feet. As blooming season begins, their blossom clusters begin green in hue and turn snowy white as spring progresses. For fragrant blooms, plant Viburnum x carlcephalum, also known as fragrant snowball, which produces sweetly scented flowers in spring.
The Southern Living Garden Book describes viburnum as a “large, diverse group of plants with generally oval, often handsome leaves and clusters of typically white, sometimes fragrant flowers that attract butterflies. Blossoms are usually followed by single-seeded, often brilliantly colored fruit much appreciated by birds.” These shrubs are evergreen or semi-evergreen, and they’re also low-maintenance, requiring full sun to partial shade and regular water.
Other popular viburnums
Other popular viburnums to plant in the South include bodnant viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense), Sandankwa viburnum (Viburnum suspensum), and arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum). The Southern Living Plant Collection is a good source for viburnums that thrive in our region—try Coppertop™ Sweet Viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum 'Brant 01' PPAF) for white spring blooms and deep, copper-colored foliage, Snow Joey™ Viburnum (Viburnum luzonicum 'BLV01' PPAF) for delicate, lacy spring flowers, and Sugar Cookie™ Sweet Viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum 'Compact 01' PPAF) for fragrant spring blooms and striking red winter foliage.
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Do you have any viburnums blooming in your yard this spring? What’s your favorite spring-blooming shrub?