Thoughts Related to Viburnums

Raise your hand if you thought that the Viburnum genus was still in the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae.

Yes, I thought so, too, and many online resources and books still include it in that family. But it appears that after careful review using molecular phylogeny, botanists decided that the genus Viburnum should be moved to the Moschatel family, Adoxaceae.

Molecular phylogeny? I also naively thought that botanists looked primarily at flower structure to determine what family a plant should be in. Apparently somewhere along the way, botanists started looking at molecular structure to group plants together. What would Linnaeus think of that? What do you think of that?

This new-to-me plant family, Adoxaceae, which is in the same Order, Dipsacales, as Caprifoliaceae, started out with just one a plant, a little herbaceous number called Adoxa moschatellina. Pictures of it look vaguely familiar, like I’ve seen it somewhere before so I’ll have to watch for it now, just because I’m curious about it.

But it doesn’t look a thing like its newest family members, the Viburnum species, which are generally woody shrubs - much loved woody shrubs, if I may say so myself. But I guess molecularly, that little Adoxa and the Viburnums are more closely related than Viburnums and Honeysuckles. Who are we to question it?

Raise your hand if you know of the other two genus in the family Adoxaceae?

Even if we don’t know the answer, we can easily use online resources to find out. What would Linneaus think of that?

The other two genuses are Sambucus and Sinadoxa. And just like the genus Adoxa, there is only one Sinadoxa, Sinadoxa corydalifolia. Unlike Adoxa, however, we are all unlikely to see a Sinadoxa, because it is a native to one specific region in China. (A little botanist humor, what do you call an Adoxa that does something bad? A Sinadoxa!)

One last botanic tidbit, I promise, maybe, at least for now. Do you know what a genus with only one species, like Adoxa and Sinadoxa, is called? A monotypic genus. I feel certain that tidbit is going to come in handy sometime - at a party, over the upcoming holidays, perhaps the next time you are admiring the yellow foliage of Ginkgo biloba, which is another monotypic genus, and is in fact the only genus in a monotypic family. Often called a living fossil…

Whoa, oops. Not sure where I was going with that. Anyway, back to Viburnums…

Raise your hand if you have a Viburnum in your garden.

I think most gardeners do because it doesn’t take long after being introduced to gardening to realize that some of our most beloved and memorable shrubs are Viburnums. In fact, as long as you garden someplace where Viburnum can grow, you’d be crazy not to have a least one in your garden.

In my own garden, my stand out Viburnum is Viburnum carlesii, the Korean Spice Viburnum, fall foliage pictured above. It has it all - spring blooms, good foliage all summer, excellent fall color, berries for the birds.

My sentimental favorite Viburnum is the old-fashioned snowball bush, Viburnum opulus 'Sterile'. It’s a big “wow” for a few weeks each May when its branches are weighed down with those big snowball sized blooms. I first saw it blooming in my grandmother's backyard and once I figured out what it was, I had to have one.

Plus it is a big shrub and I can hide the compost tumbler behind it.

What's your stand out Viburnum?


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE the snowball viburnum. Haven't a clue about those kinky family connections. Just shows to go ya you have a hort background.

  2. I have seriously been considering a snowball viburnum. What are people's experiences with the snowball and deer?

  3. I have a snowball viburnum. It's tall and gangly and I decided it would do well to keep going in that direction and be a tree.

  4. I'm a big fan of the blue berries produced by our arrowood viburnum. The birds really enjoy those berries. Once they turned ripe the plant was stripped in a couple days.

  5. Okay, even though I am a proud, card carrying plant science nerd, I have to admit that I had no idea what family viburnum were in. But I do know (and love molecular phylogeny, and I think Linnaeus would love them too. After all, he was all about changing the hotch-potch classification systems of the day into something orderly and scientific, but everyone can interpret flower structure differently, leading to vicious disputes between different plant taxonomists and constant plant name changes (the genus Scilla, for example... been moved about so much much it doesn't know which way is up!) but getting down to actual DNA sequence is absolutely and something everyone can agree on.

  6. I LOVE the Brandywine viburnum. Pretty foliage and when the berries begin to turn they are lovely rose-pink, then darken to deep purple so there are both colors in the cluster for a good period.

  7. I love the concept of molecular phylogeny, but then I'm also fascinated by DNA and genetics, so all that science stuff is good to me. It's a much more accurate way to determine plant relationships, even if it upsets the botanical applecart a bit.
    Sadly, I have no standout Viburnum. I guess I have too many Hydrangeas.

  8. Oops, I said I had one viburnum, but that's wrong, I have two. I forgot about my snowball bush. It is very pretty in spring. I want one of those delicate flowering viburnums too. Now, where can I put it? All that genus talk is making me hungry, but not for viburnums.~~Dee

  9. I have several kinds of vibrunum which I bought over the years but the snowball bush is my favorite Maybe because it brings back memories of my grandmother having them and our daughters having their prom photos taken in front of the snowball bush.

  10. I have V rufidulum/Rusty Blackhaw
    (7 small trees) and Viburnum x burkwoodii. I can't imagine gardening without viburnums. gail

  11. I had a golden European cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus) but it died during a drought, which makes me hesitate to put another viburnum in the same spot.

  12. Well, as I've posted a few times, the tomentosum (doublefile) viburnum can't be beat for flowers and for fruit. Mine even bloomed twice this year.

  13. I have several viburnums in the garden, I think they are my favourite shrubs.....the snowball tree which I remember from my childhood, davidii with the blue berries,but my favourite of all is mariesii, just fabulous when in flower with its big flat white flowers all long the stems


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