Friday, June 1, 2007
Name. May 23 (three hundred years ago) is the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the man who created a methodology for plant classification and the binomial system of naming organisms that we still use today. In his honor I have chosen the mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium, a plant like chrysanthemums and rhododendrons where the genus name is the same as the common name. There are about 120 species of viburnum, and to further reinforce the use of genus, this particular viburnum uses the name of an entirely different genus to complete its classification. Maples are in the genus acer, and so acerifolium means leaf of maple. Carl himself is also known as Carl von Linné, Carolus Linnaeus and the Father of Taxonomy, and may he rest in peace even though the sensibly-named mapleleaf viburnum is sometimes referred to as Dockmackie. Sorry, Carl.
When and where seen. Mapleleaf viburnums were sporting flower buds on May 27 along Heartbreak Ridge, near Wolf Rock, in Great Brook Farm State Park. These will be in flower within a week or two.
Identification The mapleleaf viburnum is a deciduous shrub about four to six feet tall with opposite leaves that resemble the three-lobed leaves of maples. Most other viburnums have ovate leaves. The exceptions are the American and the European cranberrybush viburnums which also have three-lobed leaves but these shrubs can be distinguished by their taller and wider growth. The flower buds are in tight flat-topped clusters up to three inches across rising up between the leaves. They open into small yellowish white flowers. The fruits are like tiny black plums and even though they are reputed to be food for songbirds, deer, and wild turkeys, some of the shrubs at Heartbreak Ridge still have last year's fruit. The leaves turn a rosy-purple color in fall.
Habitat. Mapleleaf viburnum is extremely shade tolerant. It likes acid soil and is often found as an understory plant in beech and maple woods.
Relatives. There are viburnum species native to Europe, Asia, and North America. I have not seen any European or Asian viburnums turning up on lists of invasive plants. Michael Dirr, author of the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants feels that "a garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music or art." Some species have very sweetly scented flowers and I assume that nurseries do not offer the varieties that have the "stenchiest stink." Mapleleaf viburnums are North American natives as are Arrowwood, Nannyberry, Hobblebush and others. You can get these native viburnums from the New England Wild Flower Society at Garden in the Woods in Framingham and they make good substitutes for replacing invasive alien plants like burning bush and autumn olive.
References. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael A. Dirr; Wyman's Garden Encyclopedia, Donald Wyman; US Department of Agriculture at http://plants.usda.gov/ (search on mapleleaf viburnum).
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