On a gloomy fall day, a bushy tree gleaming with scarlet leaves is just what the doctor ordered. Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) can bring that sparkle to your garden. This North American native has shiny leaves that turn red to reddish purple in autumn, often decorated with dark blue-black fruit at the same time (unless the birds or your neighbors got there first). When the leaves drop, the rough reddish-brown bark stands out, and in the spring, the leaves return—glossy and green—along with creamy white flat-top clusters of flowers. With a spectacle like this to watch, those heavy clouds don’t matter as much.
Common name: Blackhaw viburnum
Botanical name: Viburnum prunifolium
Plant type: Deciduous tree or shrub
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 12 to 15 feet tall
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: If needed, prune in spring, immediately after flowering
• Fertilizer: None needed
• By seed or cuttings
Pests and diseases
• Scale insects, Japanese beetles, aphids, and mealybugs may attack the tree.
• Vulnerable to downy mildew, powdery mildew, rust, and wood rot.
• V. prunifolium makes a great screen or tall hedge. It’s also a nice specimen shrub or tree—wide but not tall. Great under phone wires, for instance.
• Birds love the berries, and some people do, too. The berries make a good preserve.
• The flowers attract butterflies.
• If you’re looking for a tree or shrub to provide some height for your wildflower bed, but not overshadow it, put this one in the back.
All in the family
• Other North American viburnums you might know include arrowwood (V. dentatum), highbush cranberry (V. trilobum), and nannyberry (V. lentago). Other cultivated viburnums originated in Asia. Among these are Koreanspice viburnum (V. carlesii), Chinese snowball (V. macrocephalum), and doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum f. tomentosum).
Where to buy
• Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
• Forestfarm, Williams, OR, 541-846-7269, www.forestfarm.com
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com
(Photo of Viburnum prunifolium courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening.)