Witherod Viburnum: A Bright-Berried Shrub

Pink is a common enough color in
nature, but there is a shade that I associate more with Barbie dolls and bubble gum than nuts and berries. It is a bit incongruous in the hedgerow, yet this particular shade of subflorescent fuchsia is certainly striking.

Witherod viburnum (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides) is an unlikely bearer of such a colorful fruit. It is a common woodland or wetland shrub in the Northeast, carrying pairs of large, leathery oval leaves on multistemmed trunks that reach a height and spread of six to eight feet. With time and room, it develops into a quietly handsome rounded shrub. Circular clusters of ivory flowers appear from the twig tips in spring, just as the new leaves turn from bronze to deep green. The clustered flowers are pretty, and the flat, tightly packed blooms allows bees a comfortable stroll as they gather pollen and nectar. I recommend planting two witherods in close proximity to ensure good fruit set. They favor other’s pollen over their own.

By June, clustered green berries will be evident in the flower’s stead, and by August, these begin to blush with that particular shade of pink referenced above. The berries undergo the most colorful transformation of any I know of, turning from green to light then bright pink before mellowing to purplish pink and finally blue black by September. By this time the leaves have turned deep maroon or red, perhaps in an attempt to alert birds that supper is finally ready. Alas, the fruits are not the first to disappear once hungry birds arrive. One of this shrub’s other common names is wild raisin, a reference to the shriveled berries often evident on the shrub in winter). It takes a few freezes and thaws to sweeten them up, and they provide valuable winter forage for the birds that remain.

Witherod is an easy shrub for fencerows, the woodland edge, or wooded wetland, thriving in moist soil but tolerant of some summer drought. It will bloom in full shade, but fruit set is less than stellar there. The best berry displays require at least three to four hours of full sun. Found throughout the east, it is more common in the Northeast and Midwest, being gradually replaced by Viburnum nudum var. nudum (smooth witherod) as one moves south. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 8.

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