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 during spring, you've likely glimpsed snowball viburnum.

Viburnum is a spring-flowering, shrub alternative to ever-popular hydrangeas. Learn about the vast range of viburnums and how to grow them.

Snowball Viburnum
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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 plant 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 province 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 New 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."

Growing Viburnums

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 New 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 'BRANT01' PP30449) for white spring blooms and deep, copper-colored foliage, 'Snow Joey' viburnum (Viburnum luzonicum 'BLV01' PP30355) for delicate, lacy spring flowers, and 'Sugar Cookie' sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum 'COMPACT01' PP29937) for fragrant spring blooms and striking, red winter foliage.

Do you have any viburnums blooming in your yard this spring? What's your favorite spring-blooming shrub?

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  1. Clemson Cooperative Extension. Viburnum.

  2. Missouri Botanical Garden. Viburnum opulus.

  3. The Woodland Trust. Guelder rose.

  4. NC State Extension. Viburnum macrocephalum.

  5. NC State Extension. Viburnum x bodnatense.

  6. Missouri Botanical Garden. Viburnum dentatum.

  7. NC State Extension. Viburnum suspensum.

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