Viburnum Leatherleaf Viburnum Alternatives: Exploring Look-alike Plants

Impatience is a common trait among gardeners. Sometimes, in our eagerness, we make mistakes like planting shrubs that will eventually outgrow their space or overcrowding plants that deserve better. To complicate matters further, there are look-alike plants that vary in size. One such example is the Leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum) and its counterparts. Understanding the specific characteristics of these plants is crucial before making any planting decisions.

The Leatherleaf Viburnum: A Magnificent Evergreen

The Leatherleaf viburnum is a large, multi-branched evergreen shrub with coarse, rough-textured leaves that measure up to 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. It forms a mounded shape, growing to a height and width of 15 feet. In summer, the leaves lie flat, but in winter, they curl inward and take on a purplish hue. The plant produces flower buds that resemble small, open cauliflower heads in late summer. Come mid-spring, these buds open up to reveal slightly fragrant flowers, measuring up to 5 inches across and adorned with numerous blossoms. In late summer, clusters of peanut-sized berries appear, starting off red and turning black. Although the flower and fruiting display is ornamental, it may not be entirely satisfying.

Exploring Look-alike Options

One such alternative to the Leatherleaf viburnum is the Viburnum x rhytidophylloides, also known as the Lantanaphyllum viburnum. This hybrid species is a result of crossing Leatherwood viburnum with V. lantana. It closely resembles its parent, but grows to a more modest size of around 10 feet in height and width. While it remains evergreen in north Arkansas, it tends to shed more leaves in harsh winters compared to the Leatherleaf viburnum. The leaves are slightly broader and not as rough in texture. Additionally, the overall effect of its flowers is a bit more appealing.

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Another look-alike option is the Prague viburnum (V. x “Pragense”). This hybrid was selected in Prague for its exceptional cold hardiness. It grows in an upright, oval form, reaching a height of 10 feet. The leaves of Prague viburnum are narrower and more willowy than the previous two plants. This variety is perhaps the least common among large evergreen viburnums, but it holds its own in terms of attractiveness.

Planting Considerations

All of these large evergreen viburnums require ample room to grow and develop. They are excellent choices for large landscapes, where they can be used to hide eyesores such as travel trailers or unsightly outbuildings. Alternatively, they work well as background shrubbery, especially when combined with more refined broadleaf evergreens. However, they are not suitable for use as foundation plants. Fruit set is usually better when multiple varieties of viburnums are planted together to ensure effective pollination.

In terms of hardiness, the Leatherleaf viburnum is the most susceptible to freezing, with a top hardiness limit of around -15. The other two options are relatively more tolerant. Generally, these viburnums thrive in zones 5-8. While they can grow in both full sun and moderate shade, they tend to have a more open growth habit in shaded areas. Once established, they exhibit good drought tolerance. To control their size, occasional hard pruning in early spring can be implemented to encourage new top growth.



In gardens, making informed choices is essential. The Leatherleaf viburnum and its look-alike plants offer an interesting selection for those seeking impressive evergreen shrubs. Carefully consider their specific traits and requirements before planting. Remember, these viburnums require ample space, and their beauty shines brightest when planted in harmony with other complementary species. For more information on horticulture and similar plant profiles, visit the Ames Farm Center.

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