Here is another small tree with a vast range of aesthetic and practical assets, and yet, is hardly ever encountered. It is Walter viburnum, or Viburnum obovatum, and is native to North America. This fine textured small tree is an ideal candidate for either an informal or formal hedge. The small, dark green leaves are glossy and leathery and fragrant when crushed. And being evergreen, is attractive and useful year-round. In addition to the foliage, however, Walter viburnum is most renowned for its heavy bloom, which occurs in late winter or earliest spring. At that time the branches are smothered in clusters (or cymes) of lovely white flowers held at branch tip. These blooms cover the tree for as long as three weeks and are, in addition to being pleasing to the eye, are a magnet for butterflies. And where there are flowers there are usually fruits and in this case the tree becomes loaded with small drupes colored red and black, a bounty eagerly consumed by birds. But not only are the flower and fruit beneficial to wildlife,  but the density of the branches make this tree an ideal nesting site. Walter viburnum is also of a size that recommends it to any sized property. Although it may reach 25 to 30 feet tall in the wilds, it is typically found at 20 feet, or below, in cultivation, with about a 10 foot spread and a pleasing oval form achieved by a moderate growth rate. The fine texture and pleasing shape lend a polished look to this small tree that recommends it not only for hedging and screening but also as a specimen or courtyard centrepiece.

One might expect a tree of this quality to be exotic and demanding, but it is nothing of the sort. Walter viburnum is quite adaptable and resilient, so much so that in its native state of Florida it has been used on parking lot islands, which is truly one of the most hostile sitings to site a tree due to the extreme heat, exhaust pollution and withering drought. But it can also tolerate periodic flooding and either acidic or alkaline soils, all of which combined makes for a very tough and adaptable tree. The only limiting factor to Walter viburnum is its cold tolerance, though it's not too bad in that respect. In the US it grows across the southern half of the country and along the mild coastal areas from New York south and up the Pacific coast as far north as Canada's British Columbia. It would probably do well in the UK if it were available and would be excellent for the mild temperate Australia and New Zealand. As of now, however, it is rarely available in the nursery trade which is a mystery for a tree that is beautiful, wild-life friendly and so easy to grow. There are some cultivars that are beginning to appear but these are mostly in a shrub form.

Walter viburnum


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