Mapleleaf viburnum, known as Viburnum acerifolium, was recognized as the GNPS 2011 Plant of the Year. This shrub thrives in shaded woods and thickets, stretching from New Brunswick, Canada, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Its natural habitat extends as far south as Florida and Texas. In its native environment, it flourishes in mixed woods, gracing slopes, bluffs, and ravines. With a loosely shaped appearance, it can reach up to 6 feet in height. Given the right conditions, mapleleaf viburnum produces a colony of plants through its suckering nature.
Resembling Nature’s Art: Maplelike Leaves
The mapleleaf viburnum earns its name from its distinct foliage, bearing a striking resemblance to the maple leaf, particularly the red maple (Acer rubrum). The leaves of Viburnum acerifolium are arranged oppositely, akin to the maple’s arrangement. Identifying this plant becomes slightly more challenging when it’s not in bloom. These leaves are medium to dark green, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length and width. Often displaying three lobes, the edges of these leaves are serrated and adorned with impressed veins.
Spring Blooms and Vibrant Berries
In the spring, mapleleaf viburnum graces us with its delicate flowers. These blooms appear on the twigs’ ends, forming off-white, flat-topped inflorescences spanning 1 to 3 inches wide. Each inflorescence is composed of numerous small flowers, arranged in a cyme structure. Proper pollination leads to the development of berry clusters, transitioning from green to dark blue hues come fall. These berries are classified as drupes, featuring a fleshy fruit with a single seed encased in a stony seed coat. Enjoyed by birds, the fruit rarely persists through the winter months. Many species of mammals also find these mature berries irresistible.
The low-growing colonial nature of mapleleaf viburnum provides birds and small mammals with both nesting and escape cover.
Fall Splendor: A Kaleidoscope of Colors
Mapleleaf viburnum captivates our senses during autumn with its spectacular display of foliage. The leaves boast a stunning range of hues, spanning from pale yellow to magenta, and even various shades of pink. Michael Dirr famously described the colors as “shades of florescent pink and rose-red to grape-juice purple-red.” Leaf coloration commences in October, lingering until November, dependent on geographical location. Once the leaves gracefully fall, bare twigs proudly showcase leaf and bloom buds for the upcoming spring.
The Perfect Addition to Your Garden
Mapleleaf viburnum proves to be an exceptional garden plant, especially appreciating partial shade conditions and drier soils. Thriving beneath a canopy of deciduous or mixed pine trees, it aligns perfectly with native ferns and herbaceous flowering plants. This shrub thrives in acidic conditions and gracefully enhances a shrub border or acts as a foundation plant near tall windows. Pruning should be done post-flowering, as it blossoms on old wood. Late-year pruning will result in fewer flowers in the following spring.
Fun Fact: Viburnum acerifolium serves as the larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly, contributing to the vibrancy of your garden.
For more information on mapleleaf viburnum and its notable features, visit Ames Farm Center. Let the beauty of nature’s artistry unfold in your garden with the addition of this remarkable shrub.
Prepared by Ellen Honeycutt, for the Georgia Native Plant Society.