It’s amazing what you find on a short walk round a good garden. Just ten minutes after finding the two witch hazels at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, and before spotting the Winter weirdness in the banana border I came across this stunning viburnum. It’s an old favorite but still rarely seen – Viburnum betulifolium (left, click to enlarge). I remember seeing this at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew decades ago and it made a lasting impression.
As you can see, it’s the shining red fruits that are so eye-catching. The picture was taken about three weeks ago, in early February, and those fruits had been gleaming for months; they first show their color in September! They may only be 1/4in/6mm long but they hang in such prodigious numbers that they weigh down the branches. Of course, the birds will take them in the end.
This magnificent display of translucent berries like redcurrants follows the flat heads of creamy white flowers in late spring and early summer. Have to say, though, it does make a substantial shrub: 5m/16ft, too big for some gardens. It’s happy in sun or partial shade in any reasonable soil and is hardy to USDA Zone 6, RHS H6.
Introduced into North America in 1901 by China by E. H. Wilson, it was also collected more recently by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Britain's Crûg Farm Plants, their plant is called ‘Hohuanshan’ and has foliage which opens bronze. Junker's Nursery, also in Britain, has one called 'Aurantiacum' with orange berries which was originally reported from China in 1928. I’m tempted to fly back to England specially to get it. The Flora of China emphasizes how variable this species is in the wild; plenty of scope for more introductions.
Just one thing: It’s often said that two or three different plants are needed to ensure good pollination but there are also reports of single plants fruiting well. Perhaps some forms are more simply fertile than others.
Now that the ghastly hedge of Leyland cypress in our British garden is almost gone, this plant is high on the list to go along that boundary. And perhaps the orange-berried one, and perhaps the Crûg Farm one as well. Steady… steady… Better not get carried away. On the other hand…
Take a look at this Botany Photo Of The Day entry for more on Viburnum betulifolium.
Plants are available in Britain from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries
Plants are hard to find in North America, but you can order seed from Sheffield’s Seeds