Viburnum is Latin for “wayfaring tree”.
Hobblebush prefers the understory of cool, moist, forest habitats, as well as stream banks and woodland edges. Found primarily in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, its range also includes the southeastern United States in the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains.
Excellent understory and woodland edge shrub that provides ornamental appeal across all seasons with its spring bloom, summer fruit, fall foliage, and winter buds. Its tendency to sprawl and form open thickets makes it a good candidate for a mixed hedgerow planting, though this characteristic can be easily managed if a thicket is undesireable. It performs best in moist, rich loam, and in part shade to shady conditions. Flower and leaf buds are attractive throughout the winter.
Hobblebush is an early blooming deciduous understory shrub with flat-topped clusters of showy white flowers. Growing 6-12 ft. tall, it is an open, somewhat straggly shrub with cascading outer branches that bend and take root where they touch the ground. This clonal method often forms open thickets that can trip or hobble a walker, hence the common name. Berries change from red to blue, and fall foliage varies from bronze-red to purple.
Leaves and Stems
Leaves are 4-8 inch long and nearly as wide. Slightly heart-shaped, opposite, simple, broad-ovate, slightly toothed, and in widely spaced pairs. Nice fall color ranges from bronze-red to purple.
3 to 5 in. flat-topped clusters of showy white flowers have a lacy effect similar to some hydrangeas. Large sterile flowers surround a cluster of small, 5-lobed fertile blooms.
Fruit is well-formed by mid-summer. The drupes (fleshy fruits that contain a single a single seed) are briefly green, then red, turning purple or blue-black at maturity.
Hobblebush is a host plant for the caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon). Gamebirds, songbirds and mammals eat its fruit. Deer, moose, and snowshoe hares browse its branches in winter.
Hobblebush has shown resistance to the European Pyrrhalta viburni, whose larvae has defoliated native viburnums since its arrival to Maine in the 1990s. Hobblebush’s resistance may be due to its somewhat fuzzy leaf surfaces or scaly petioles, where egg-laying is concentrated.
Seeds are ripe when the fruit turns from red to purple or blue-black. Germination of fresh seed may take two years through alternating periods of warm, moist, stratification, to cold, then warm again.
The Algonquin reportedly rubbed its mashed leaves on the head to treat migraines. Iroquois are said to have used a decoction of roots as a blood medicine. The plant was also used to treat chest and breathing problems. The fruits are reportedly edible.
Plant Profile by Rachel Emus