Tuesday, May 31, 2016


     Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum) is sometimes also called Southern Arrow-wood or simply Arrowwood, to distinguish it from some other members of its family with somewhat toothed leaves and similar histories. It can grow to over 12' and be almost as wide. Because it can take a variety of soil conditions (except exceedingly dry) and varying amounts of shade, it is often used as a landscape plant. It has few issues and has pleasant looking (but not smelling) blooms which are quite attractive. It can take a fair amount of shade, but you get many more blooms when it gets full sun.
     Because of its popularity as a landscape plant, this native has spread outside its native range and now is planted in many parts of the country. The clusters (called umbels) of white flowers can be quite showy. They are primarily visited by an array of small bees, flies, and beetles, despite their less than pleasant smell. The flowers are typical of viburnums in being white, with 5 petals, 5 sepals, and 5 stamens.

An umbel of Arrowwood flowers.

     The resulting berries (called drupes) are bluish to black and eaten by a variety of wildlife species, including up to 35 different types of birds. The fruits are about 41% fat with high carbohydrate and protein concentrations, something making them popular with many birds, especially during migration.

The toothed leaves (thus V. dentatum) and drupes of Arrow-wood.

     The opposite branching and toothed leaves are attractive. So are the multiple stems that emerge from the ground. Each stem tends to be very straight and even in diameter, a trait that supposedly made them popular with Native American Indian tribes for making of arrow shafts, and thus the name.

The straight and even shafts of Arrow-wood.

     Interestingly, it is hard to find real documentation for this use of the plant. While it makes perfect sense, with not just their straight growth and diameter, but also their hardness and ability to straighten them out when green, it is not really recorded, though often repeated. For instance, Daniel Moerman, in his monumental work documenting "Native American Ethnobotany" makes no mention at all to this.
     He does however list Arrow-wood being used by the Ojibwa as an element of their smoking mixtures called "kinnikinnik." Moerman also documents the Iroquois women taking it as a contraceptive and as a poultice for swollen legs after childbirth.

Southern Arrow-wood has variable Fall color.

     Viburnums have opposite branching, which is uncommon among our woody plants. Formerly in the Honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) Family, they are now part of the smaller Adoxaceae Family. It is currently in bloom in many parts of our region and is easy to spot. While we may may like it for its aesthetics (and it is not favored deer browse either), it is the wildlife that gets the most benefit from our planting it. In addition to its popularity with the birds, 104 caterpillar species also use viburnums such as Arrow-wood. These insects feed most of our birds and bats as well. It's nice when we can plant something that we can like, but that can serve as habitat value as well.

Arrowwood leaves in the Fall.


  1. I planted a very small plant 2 years ago, but I think it's getting too much shade. Will probably move it.

  2. I planted a very small plant 2 years ago, but I think it's getting too much shade. Will probably move it.