Possumhaw Viburnum, (Viburnum nudum), is a gorgeous shrub, with creamy-white spring flowers and dark green, glossy leaves in the summer. The flowers appear in April and May and are pollinated by many small insects, including hoverflies and sweat bees. In the fall the leaves are a rich burgundy and the flowers have developed into multi-colored fruits – bright pink, blue and purple – all prized by birds.
This is a plant for wet areas, swamps, and rain gardens, preferring soils that are acidic. More flowers and fruit are produced when the shrub grows in full sun, in moist soil, but it will tolerate shade and can survive periods of drought. This is a good choice for a shrub border, in areas of part sun and part shade. It can grow to 12 feet tall, but does not spread aggressively, and can be pruned as needed in late fall, after birds have eaten the fruits.
Shrubs are a great way to fill in shady spots, and control erosion on slopes. They are not used as often in the home landscape as flowering perennials and annual plants, but native small trees and bushes require little maintenance and most will feed insects in the spring and birds in the fall.
Possumhaw Viburnum grows wild in counties of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont. Cultivars are available in the nursery trade, and the straight species can be ordered from online sources.
The deciduous holly Ilex decidua is another plant commonly called “possumhaw” but is completely unrelated. Early settlers called any bush with red fruits “haws” because the European Hawthorn produces red fruits known as haws.
For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.
By Helen Hamilton, past-president of the John Clayton Chapter, VNPS
Photo: Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum) taken by Helen Hamilton