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A Comprehensive Guide to Smooth Arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum)

Smooth Arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum) is a shrub that is native to the south-central and eastern United States and eastern 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 generally in wet areas such as swamps, stream banks, and bottomlands, thickets, and mesic woodlands. The white to rarely pink flowers bloom from March to June and the plant is hardy in zones 4-7.

Taxonomy and Naming of Smooth Arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum)

Herbarium specimen of smooth arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum).
Herbarium specimen — Viburnum recognitum Fernald
collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0).

Taxonomy

Smooth Arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum) was originally named and described by Merritt Lyndon Fernald, an American botanist, in 1941. 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, recognitum, is Latin for “recognize.”

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the glabrous stems. Other common names include northern arrow-wood and southern arrow-wood.

Physical Description

White flowers of smooth arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum).
Flowers of Smooth Arrow-wood — Viburnum recognitum Fernald observed in United States of America
by Bill Keim (licensed under CC BY 4.0).
  • Plant Type: This plant is a shrub.
  • Height: 5 ft (1.5 m) to 15 ft (4.6 m)
  • Stem: There are multiple stems with light brown to gray bark that is hairless.
  • Leaves: The leaves are simple, opposite, elliptic and have serrate margins. They are 1.2 in (3.0 cm) to 4 in (10.2 cm) long and 0.8 in (2.0 cm) to 3 in (7.6 cm) wide.
  • Flower color: white or rarely pink (Roedner, et al 1978)
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to June.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has blue-black drupes that mature in the late summer to fall.

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

Range map of smooth arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map of Smooth Arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum) — 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 south-central and eastern United States, and eastern Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of Florida, Kansas, and Missouri and provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.

Habitat

Swamp Habitat in Europe.
Swampland Habitat — Ina Hensel (telemakro.de), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in wet areas such as stream banks, bottomlands, swamps (Dugal 1988), damp thickets (Roedner, et al 1978), thickets (Palmer 1947), secondary dunes and seasonal ponds (Lortie, et al 1991), and mesic woodland/forest (Larimore, et al 2008).

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. Birds enjoy the fruits in the fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethnobotany Database notes that this species has been used as a contraceptive and an orthopedic aid.

How is this plant distinguished from other Viburnums?

This species is very similar to the southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum), however, while the southern arrow-wood has pubescent petioles, this species does not (Weakley 2022). The peduncles are also glabrous for this species (Dobbs 1952).

Is this plant invasive?

This species has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Smooth Arrow-wood

Shrub of smooth arrow-wood (Viburnum recognitum) with white flowers.
Shrub of Smooth Arrow-wood — Viburnum recognitum Fernald observed in United States of America by Bill Keim (licensed under CC BY 4.0).

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 4-7. 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 moist, preferably, to medium well-drained soils.

References

  • Dobbs, Raymond J. New plant records for Illinois. Rhodora 54: 307-307.
  • Dugal, Albert W. 1988. Southern Arrow-wood, Viburnum recognitum, A Rare Ontario Species in the Ottawa District. Trail & Landscape 22 (4): 151-155.
  • Larimore, Richard L., Loy R. Phillippe, and John E. Ebinger. 2008. Vascular Flora of Middle Fork Woods Nature Preserve, Vermilion County, Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin 38, article 4.
  • Lortie, J.P., Bruce A. Sorrie, D.W. Holt. 1991. Flora of the Monomy Islands Chatham, Massachusetts. Rhodora 93: 361-389.
  • Palmer, Ernest J. 1947. Second supplement to the spontaneous Flora of the Arnold Arboretum. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 28: 410-418.
  • Roedner, Beverly J., David A. Hamilton, Keith E. Evans. 1978. Rare Plants of the Ozark Plateau: a field identification guide. USDA: North Central Forest Experiment Station.
  • 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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