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Mapleleaf Viburnum
(Viburnum acerifolium)

Mapleleaf Viburnumby Sally Elmiger

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Habitat: Dry to moist woodlands

Description: Mapleleaf viburnum is a small shrub that grows 4–6 feet tall and 3–4 feet wide. Its slim twigs construct an open, loose form and sucker out from the parent plant, creating clonal thickets. It gets its name from the shape of its leaves, which look like three-lobed maple leaves. (Acer is the old Latin name for maple. It also means “sharp,” because the wood was used for spears.) The leaves are slightly hairy, bright to dark green in summer, and many shades of red and purple in the fall. Yellow-white, flat-topped flowers emerge in early summer and, like many viburnums, are really clusters of smaller flowers. A drupe or fruit is formed around September that turns purplish-black and stays on the shrub into the winter.

Landscape Uses: Noted horticulturist Michael Dirr, in his descriptions of viburnums, says, “A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art.” Plants from this genus can play many roles in the garden, as viburnums come in lots of shapes and sizes.

Mapleleaf viburnum is such a useful one because of its relatively small size (several other native viburnums can be over 20 feet tall!). It makes a great foundation plant for this reason. It is extremely shade-tolerant and is good for soils that tend to be dry and well drained. However, it will also do well in sunnier locales and typical garden soils that are more moist and humus-y.

Mapleleaf viburnum creates a loose outline with its open branching habit. It does not need to be continually trimmed back, as it grows slowly, particularly in shady areas. These characteristics, along with its cloning ability, also make the mapleleaf viburnum a good plant for naturalizing in woodland gardens.

This viburnum offers interest in the garden in summer, fall, and winter. The creamy white flowers open in early summer and are a favorite of bees. Slightly hairy coverings on the summer leaves give this plant a velvety appearance. The shrub’s fall colors have been described as creamy-pink, rose, and red to grape-juice purple and are one of this viburnum’s showiest features. Once the leaves are gone, persistent black fruit provides winter interest and wildlife food.

Try one or two mapleleaf viburnums in the back of the house to convince yourself of this plant’s assets. You’ll soon move them up to the front where all your neighbors can enjoy them!

Article reprinted from the Summer 2000 issue of the Ann Arbor Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 2000 Wild Ones–Natural Landscapers, Ltd.


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