1279 Viburnum prunifoliumCommon Names: blackhaw viburnum,blackhaw,sweet haw,nanny-berry Family: Adoxaceae (moschatel Family)
Blackhaw is usually a multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub with a dense, irregularly rounded crown. The lateral branches tend to grow horizontally. It typically gets 12-15 ft (4-5 m) in height with a spread of 8-12 ft (2.5-4 m). Occasionally, an open grown Blackhaw, especially one with a single leader, can become a real tree and reach a height of 30 ft (9 m). The opposite, oval to broadly elliptic leaves are 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long with fine teeth around the margins. They are shiny dark green on top, paler green beneath, and turn attractive shades of reddish purple in fall. In late spring, small white flowers are borne in flattened cymes around 4.5 in (11 cm) across. (A cyme is a branched cluster of flowers in which the central flower opens first and the lateral flowers open in sequence, from the inside out.) The individual flowers in the cluster have five petal-like lobes and no fragrance. The one-seeded fruits that follow are bluish black drupes dusted with a powdery bloom. (A drupe is a fleshy fruit containing one, or occasionally more, hard stones, each of which contains one, or occasionally more, seeds.) The fruits are edible when fully ripe and may persist into winter if not consumed first.
Blackhaw viburnum is similar to rusty blackhaw (V. rufidulum), its southern cousin. Rusty blackhaw can be distinguished by the presence of small rusty reddish brown dots on the leaf undersides, which are absent in blackhaw.
‘Summer Magic’ is a more erect shrub with shinier leaves than the species. ‘Early Red’, said to have reddish new growth and burgundy fall color, has been offered.
Viburnum prunifolium ranges from Connecticut and Pennsylvania south to northern Georgia and west to northern Louisiana, Missouri and Illinois. Blackhaw viburnum occurs in mixed woodlands, thickets and along streambanks commonly in the Piedmont, infrequently on the Coastal Plain, and rarely in the mountains. This is a shrub of the forest understory and frequently found growing in dense shade where it rarely flowers.
Blackhaw tolerates hard pruning. If you need to prune, do it right after flowering so you don’t cut off next year’s flower buds which will form in early summer. Light: Blackhaw does well in partial shade or in full sun. Dappled shade is better where summers are hot. It survives in full shade but flowers poorly there. Moisture: Blackhaw thrives in most any soil that is well drained. Established plants are quite tolerant of dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9 . Propagation: Viburnums are dioecious, which means they are self-incompatible. You will need two plants for cross pollination if you want to get fruits. Viburnum seeds have hard seed coats and are difficult to germinate. They should be planted outdoors in spring; some may germinate the following spring, others in two years. It’s easier to propagate viburnums from cuttings. Greenwood tip cuttings, started in spring and held under intermittent mist, should begin forming roots in a couple weeks or so.
Viburnums are among the most popular flowering shrubs, and Blackhaw is a favorite. The creamy white flowers in spring, the red-purple foliage in fall, and the dusty blue-black fruits in winter combine to make blackhaw a shrub for all season. In foliage, blackhaw viburnum has a medium texture and is one of the thickest, densest viburnums. Blackhaw is one of the best shrubs to use as a specimen, even as a focal point, in a small landscape. Like most viburnums, blackhaw takes well to pruning and can be used in informal hedges and shrub borders. Blackhaw is tolerant of air pollution and compacted soils. Without pruning, blackhaw can become unkempt with age, producing suckers and forming a dense mass of overlapping stems.
The attractive fruits are edible when fully ripe and may be eaten fresh or used in jams and preserves. Needless to say, they are quite attractive to birds and other wildlife, too.
The inner bark and roots of blackhaw were used medicinally by Native Americans and are still occasionally used as folk remedies for menstrual cramps, morning sickness, to prevent miscarriages, and for treating menopause symptoms. One active ingredient in these decoctions is salicin, a precursor of aspirin. Other compounds appear to have the effect of relaxing the uterus.
There are over 200 species of Viburnum, mostly shrubs, native to Europe, Asia and North America. Formerly placed in the huge family, Caprifoliaceae, the Viburnums recently were split off into the Adoxaceae based on genetic studies.
Although occasionally used medicinally, Viburnum prunifolium and extracts from it are not listed as safe or effective by the FDA, and should not be used unless under the supervision of a physician.
Steve Christman 1/27/17