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Wetland Evaluation and Delineation Program

Featured Plants - Florida’s Viburnums

Viburnum spp.

viburnum plantViburnums are some of the few kinds of woody plants in Florida with opposite simple leaves. Looking at the leaves only, you might confuse various kinds of these shrubs or small trees with witch hazel, buttonbush or even maple, but all our viburnums have distinctive flat-topped clusters of small, five-parted, white or yellowish flowers at the ends of the branches that become clusters of blue or black drupes--fleshy fruits with a stone in the center. (The drupes are first green, then red or pink, then finally blue or black.) All our species are deciduous (sometimes tardily so) and have distinctive star-shaped hairs or rusty scales on the young stems or leaves.

The genus Viburnum, with 150 species, occupies most of the north temperate zone and tropical mountains as far south as Central America and Java, but it is especially diverse in eastern Asia and North America. Florida has five native species of viburnum; all five are found in north Florida, while none occur south of Lake Okeechobee. They tend to be found in shady woods of various kinds. The three species that prefer wet woodlands are on Florida’s list of wetland plant species.

Key to Viburnum in Florida (adapted from Godfrey, Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama, University of Georgia Press, 1988)

   a. Leaves palmately veined and 3-lobed, maple-like V. acerifolium
   a. Leaves pinnately veined, elliptic to obovate or spatulate.
      b. Leaves witch-hazel-like, with conspicuous straight lateral 
         veins running parallel to each other and ending in coarse 
         teeth V. dentatum
      b. Leaves with inconspicuous, curving lateral veins that branch 
         and loop before reaching the edge of the leaf; leaf margins 
         smooth or finely toothed.
         c. Upper leaf surfaces shiny dark green; lower leaf surfaces 
            without brown dots but with patches of rusty, kinky, 
            star-shaped hairs V. rufidulum
         c. Upper leaf surfaces duller green; lower leaf surfaces with 
            brown dots, hairless or with rusty scales.
            d. Leaves narrowly to broadly obovate or spatulate V. obovatum
            d. Leaves narrowly to broadly elliptic V. nudum
Description Images

One of the earliest shrubs to bloom in the spring is Walter’s viburnum or small viburnum, Viburnum obovatum, FACW. In full bloom it is an impressive sight of white and green within a surrounding landscape where little else has begun to flower. Unlike our other species, it is tardily deciduous to essentially evergreen, with small leaves that are often crenate along the edge of the apical half. Two-year-old leaves turn bright yellow and fall just before the plants flower. Its clusters of white flowers appear from mid-winter through early spring, though some plants may also bloom sporadically in the summer. It is often a much-branched colonial shrub, forming a dense tangle of arching trunks and branches along seasonally but shallowly inundated stream banks, sloughs, hydric hammocks, and river flood plains. In the northern portion of its range, it may grow in fertile sandy upland soils, but southward it almost never occurs far from wetlands. It is the most widespread of our viburnums, extending south to Charlotte and Martin counties.


Viburnum obovatum, flowersViburnum obovatum, fruit
The leaves of the possum-haw viburnum, Viburnum nudum, FACW, may remind you of buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, but buttonbush leaves are thinner in texture, often in threes at each node, and never have rusty scales. Possum-haw viburnum blooms later than Walter’s viburnum and ranges south almost to Lake Okeechobee. Viburnum nudum, flowersViburnum nudum, fruit

The leaves of arrow-wood, Viburnum dentatum, FACW, look a little like those of witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, but witch hazel leaves are alternate. Arrow-wood grows along stream banks and in bay swamps, but also on well-drained bluffs near streams. It is most common in northwest Florida.


Viburnum dentatum, flowersViburnum dentatum, fruit

Most people who glance at maple-leaved viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium, probably mistake it for a young maple tree. It can be told apart by its flowers and fruits and by the minute star-shaped hairs on its young stems and leaves. This shrub is one of the species of the forests of eastern North America that occurs only in north Florida. It grows generally in woods on bluffs and ravines in northwest Florida, but also appears in coastal live oak hammocks of the panhandle.  


Viburnum acerifolium, flowers

The young stems, leaf stalks, and lower leaf surfaces of southern or rusty black-haw, Viburnum rufidulum, are covered with rusty hairs. The flower clusters, which are as much as 4 inches across, stand out against the glossy dark green leaves. Southern black-haw grows in well-drained woods and fencerows in northern Florida as far south as Marion, Citrus, and Hernando counties.


Viburnum rufidulum, flowers

For more information, see pages 361 to 363 in Florida Wetland Plants: An Identification Manual.

Last updated: September 21, 2011

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