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A Comprehensive Guide to Southern Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum)

Southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) is a shrub that is native to the south-central, mid-west, and eastern United States, and northeastern Canada. This plant is a host to the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), the Henry’s Elfin (Callophrys hernrici) and about 3 moth species. Growing from 5 to 15 feet tall, this species has cream to white flowers that bloom from March to June. It is hardy in zones 2-8.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Southern Arrow-wood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Herbarium specimen of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum).
Herbarium Specimen — Viburnum dentatum L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Herbarium specimen of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum).
Herbarium Specimen — Viburnum venosum Britton collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Southern Arrow-wood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) was originally named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum (1753) based on a specimen from Virginia. Since this time two varieties have been recognized, the one above, var. dentatum, and another from a specimen on Nantucket Island, var. venonsum (Svenson 1940). Through this species has been divided into a number of different varieties, but it currently has the same name. This plant is a member of the Muskroot Family (Adoxaceae).

Varieties of Viburnum dentatum

  • Variety dentatum: leaves are glabrous underneath (Svenson 1940)
  • Variety venosum: leaves are pubescent underneath with prominent veins (Svenson 1940).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Viburnum, is from Latin for wayfaring tree (dictionary.com). The species name, dentatum, is Latin for the toothed leaf margins. One of the variety names, venosum, describes the prominent veins in the variety.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name describes the straight twigs of this shrub that could be used as arrows. Other common names include Arrow-wood Viburnum and arrowwood viburnum. In Maine, this shrub has been called “Withe wood” and Moose-wood (Perkins 1929).

Physical Description of Southern Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum)

Flowers of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum).
Flowers of Southern Arrow-wood — Viburnum dentatum L. observed in United States of America by aberkov (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
  • Plant Type: This plant is a deciduous shrub.
  • Height: 5 to 15 feet
  • Stem: This plant has multiple stems.
  • Leaves: The leaves are opposite, simple, serrate, and cordate to ovate in shape. The leaves are 1 to 4 inches long and about 1 to 3.5 inches wide. The leaf lengths and widths is highly variable with the species. Leaves are pubescent in variety venosum.
  • Flower color: cream to white
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to June.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant fruits with blue-black berries in the late summer.

Range of Southern Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) in the United States and Canada

Range map of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) in the United States and Canada.
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)]
Range of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum var. venosum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (http://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)].

This shrub has two varieties, var. dentatum and var. venosum. Variety dentatum is more common overall and is native to the south-central, midwest, and eastern United States. Variety venosum, is rare in the northeastern United States.

Habitat

Mid-Atlantic mixed hardwood forest in Delaware.
Mixed Hardwood Forest — Author Image

This species grows in in rich forests, woodlands, floodplains, and wetlands such as marshes and swamps. In Louisiana, it has been found on calcareous forests and prairies (MacRoberts and MacRoberts 1993).

Hosted Insects

Spring azure butterfly on leaf.
Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Southern arrow-wood is a host for the Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina argiolus), especially the violacea type I race (Pratt, et al 1994) and the Herny’s Elfin (Callophrys henrici) and four moths including the azalea sphinx (Darapsa choerilus) (Tietz 1972), Viburnum clearwing borer (Synanthedon viburni) (Engelhardt 1925), Pink Prominent (Hyparpax aurora), and Rose Hooktip Moth (Oreta rosea).

Other Supported Wildlife

House sparrow on log.
House Sparrow — Mathias Appel, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, bee-flies (Graenicher 1910) and wasps during the growing season. Other animals such as birds and small mammals enjoy the fruits of this plant. Beetles, Sericosomus incongrunus, Macrodactylus subspinosus, Leptura chrysocoma and Anaspis flavipennis have been found utilizing this plant (Lovell 1915).

Frequently Asked Questions about Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

Is this plant deer resistant?

Gardenia.net shows that this plant is deer resistant.

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this plant has been used as a smoke plant by the Ojibwa tribe.

How is this plant distinguished from other viburnums?

This shrub has multiple straight branches that originate from the bottom and identifies this plant from other viburnums. The varieties can be identified by whether the leaves are glabrous (var. dentatum) or pubescent (var. venosum).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been shown to be invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Southern Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

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Leaves of southern arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) in a wooded area.
Leaves of Arrow-wood — Viburnum dentatum L. observed in United States of America by Yann Kemper (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 2-8. 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 grows best in places that have full sun or partial shade. Generally this plant is found in places that are wet or moist, but in garden situations it can handle drier conditions (Flemer 1984).

Cultivars of this Species

This species is planted a lot in cultivation and a number of cultivars have been developed. Some of these include (University of Minnesota):

  • ‘Autumn Jazz’: cultivar that is vase-shaped growing up to 8 to 10 feet tall
  • ‘Cardinal’: cultivar that is vase shaped and has a red color
  • ‘Chicago Lustre’: cultivar that is rounded in equal dimensions (8 to 10 feet tall and wide)
  • ‘Christom’ Blue Muffin: short variety that 3′ to 5′ tall and wide
  • ‘Crimson Tide’: cultivar that has a burgundy-red color in the fall
  • ‘Little Joe’: dwarf cultivar growing to 4 feet tall
  • ‘Northern Burgundy’: cultivar with dark green leaves and a burgundy-red color
  • ‘Red Feather’: cultivar with maroon and green leaves and a reddish-purple fall color

Special Notes about this Plant

Like the maple-leaf Viburnum, this viburnum also has a brilliant color in the fall, which is an added addition to a garden while also having a butterfly host plant. The color depends on the cultivar.

References

  • Engelhardt, George Paul. 1925. Studies of the North American Aegeriidae (Lepidoptera). Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society 20: 61-69.
  • Flemer, William III. 1984. Island and Median-Strip Planting. Arnoldia 44(4): 14-28.
  • Graenicher, S. 1910. The bee-flies (Bombyliidae) in their relations to flowers. Bulletin of the Wisconsin Natural History Society 8: 91-101.
  • Lovell, John H. 1915. A preliminary list of the anthophilous Coleoptera of New England. Psyche 22: 109-117.
  • Perkins, Anne E. 1929. Colloquial Names of Maine Plants. Torreya 29 (6): 149-151.
  • MacRoberts, Barbara R. and Michael H. MacRoberts. 1993. Vascular Flora of Sandstone Outcrop Communities in Western Louisiana, with notes on Rare and Noteworthy Species. Phytologia 75: 463-480.
  • Svenson, Henry K. 1940. Plants of the Southern United States. Rhodora 42: 1-19.
  • Tietz, H.M. 1972. An index to the described life histories, early stages, and hosts of the macrolepidoptera of the continental United States and Canada. The Allyn Museum of Entomology (Sarasota, FL: Allyn Museum).
  • Wyman, Donald. 1959. Viburnums. Arnoldia, Bulletin of Popular Information of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. 19: 47-58.
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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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