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A Comprehensive Guide to Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum)

Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) is a shrub that is native to the mid-western and eastern United States and Canada. This species is a host to the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus), Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), Henry’s elfin (Incisalia henrici) and the baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton). Growing from 5 feet to 15 feet tall, this species grows in shrub swamps, low woods, streambanks, roadsides, fields, and swamps. The white to cream flowers bloom from May to June and the plant is hardy in zones 3-8.

Taxonomy and Naming of Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum)

Herbarium specimen of downy arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum).
Herbarium Specimen — Viburnum rafinesquianum var. rafinesquianum collected in United States of America
by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) was originally named and described by Josef August Schultes, an Austrian botanist, in 1830. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Muskroot Family (Adoxaceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Viburnum, derives from the Latin word for obscure or wayfaringtree. The species name, rafinesquianum, is presumably a Latinized Rafinesque, in honor of Contantine Samuel Rafinesque, a French botanist.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the pubescent stems. Another common name is Rafinesque’s Arrow-wood (Lariviere and Larochelle 1988) amd Missouri Viburnum (Missouri Botanical Garden).

Physical Description

White flowers of downy arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum).
Flowers of Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) — Superior National Forest, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a shrub.
  • Height: 6 ft (1.8 m) to 10 ft (3.0 m)
  • Stem: The stems are erect with dark gray bark.
  • Leaves: The leaves are simple, opposite, oval, and have dentate to serrate margins. They are 1.5 in (3.8 cm) to 3 in (7.6 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) to 2 in (5 cm) wide. The leaves are pubescent (Reaume 2009).
  • Flower color: white to cream
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from May to June.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has drupes that are blue-black to black and mature in the fall.

Range of Downy Arrow-wood in the United States and Canada

Range map of downy arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map of Downy Arrow-wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) — Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023. (website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This Viburnum is native to the mid-western and eastern United States and Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hapmshire, South Dakota, Vermont, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Habitat

Riverine floodplain forest in Delaware.
Bottomland Hardwood Habitat in Delaware — Robert Coxe, Image

This species grows in open woodlands, streams, rocky hillsides (Reaume 2009), dry openings (Catling and Brownell 1999), dry brush (Bouchard, et al 1983), rocky shorelines (Rousseau 1974). limestone savanna (Alvar) (Catling and Brownell 1995), bottomland hardwoods (Krings and Franklin 2004), low woodlands (Fernald 1942), and dry thickets (Maycock and Eahselt 1997).

Hosted Insects

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly on vegetation.
Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) — D. Gordon E. Robertson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This viburnum is a host to the holly blue (Celastrina argiolus), spring azure (Celastrina ladon), Henry’s elfin (Incisalia henrici), the Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), and the scarce fritillary (Euphydryas maturna).

Other Supported Wildlife

Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with bumblebee in McMullen House garden.
Bumblebee on Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) — Robert Coxe, Image

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database does not list this species specifically, but Viburnums in general have been used in a lot of pharaceutical uses.

How is this plant distinguished from other Viburnums?

This viburnum is similar to the bracted arrow-wood (Viburnum bracteatum), but it has ovate to rotund leaves and stipitate glands on the cyme. This species has ovate leaves and eglandular cymes (Weakley 2022).

Is this plant invasive?

This species has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Smooth Blackhaw

Leaves of smooth blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium) in a shaded area.
Leaves of Smooth Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium) — Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-8. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species requires full sun to part-shade and dry well-drained soils.

Things of Note

This species has dull bronze-purple foliage in the fall (Koller 1981).

References

  • Bouchard, Andre’, Denis Barabe’, Madeleine Dumais, and Stuart Hay. 1983. The Rare Vascular Plants of Quebec. (Ottawa, ON: National Museum of Natural Sciences).
  • Catling, Paul M. and Vivian R. Brownell. 1999. Additional notes on vegetation of dry openings along the Trent River, Ontario. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 113 (3): 506-509.
  • Catling, Paul M. and Vivian R. Brownell. 1995. A review of the Great Lakes Region: Distribution, floristic comparison, biogeography, and protection. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 109 (2): 143-171.
  • Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1942. The seventh century of additions to the flora of Virginia. Rhodora 44: 457-479.
  • Kolller, Gary L. 1981. Shrubs for Hillsides and Embankments. Arnoldia 41: 193.
  • Krings, Alexander and Carlyle Franklin. 2004. An Annotated, Preliminary Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Camp Butner, North Carolina. Sida 21: 1131-1139.
  • Lariviere, M.C. and A. Larochelle. 1988. An Annotated List of the Treehoppers (Homoptera, Membracidae) of Quebec. Entomological News 99: 111-124.
  • Maycock, Paul F. and Dianne Eahselt. 1997. An inventory of ecologically significant natural vegetation in the province of Ontario: 1. Essex County. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 101: 474-486.
  • Reaume, Tom. 2009. Biology of Downy Arrow-Wood (Viburnum rafinesquianum). Blue Jay 67 (2): 89-96.
  • Rousseau, C. 1974. Ge’ographie floristique du Que’bec/Labrador. Distribution des principales especes vasculaires. Les Presses de of I’Universite’ Laval. Quebec 799 pp. in (Bouchard, et al 1983).
  • Weakley, A.S. and Southeastern Flora Team. 2022. Flora of the southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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