Arrowwood: Another Piedmont Native in Bloom

Arrowwood in bloom

I will admit it’s not the showiest native shrub in the forest, nor is this the best photo (sorry about that), but anyone walking through a southeastern Piedmont forest this time of year is bound to notice the flat-topped cream-to-white flower clusters (cymes, technically speaking) of Arrowwood, so named because Native Americans reportedly used the strong root-sprout shoots for arrow shafts.

I rescued this shrub when it was small from the same doomed-to-bulldozer oblivion floodplain (with the owner’s permission) from which I rescued my Bladdernut. Like the Bladdernut, this Arrowwood has grown quite tall and wide over the last seventeen or so years. It’s now about seven feet tall and five feet white, and this year it is covered in flowers.

That’s good news for the birds, which enjoy the fruits of this native shrub. When ripe, the blue-to-black fruit clusters are consumed enthusiastically by songbirds, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer, and Gray Squirrels. My references tell me that White-tailed Deer moderately prefer to browse on this species, but either my deer have different tastes (preferring my irises, for example), or they somehow haven’t noticed my Arrowwood, because it is not protected.

I prefer this shrub in a mixed woodland/natural area setting. The white flowers light up the woodland as the canopy leafs out, and it feeds wildlife. However, I’d never put one near the house, because I think the flowers smell — well, unpleasant is probably the kindest adjective I can think of. They don’t reek horribly, but their fragrance is not in my top 1000 list of favorites.

Under cultivation, this multi-branching native can get as tall as fifteen feet and equally wide. Mine is planted near the Bladdernut, and I haven’t done a thing to it but admire it.

You may have noticed that I haven’t yet revealed the botanical name of this shrub. That’s because I’m not entirely certain — and neither are the botanists. Many of those experts call Arrowwood a polymorphic species complex, which is their way of saying this shrub has interbred in complex ways that make it difficult to sort out individual species.

For sure, it’s a native Viburnum. Most botanists I know tend to call all Arrowwoods Viburnum dentatum. Some named cultivars of this species with showier attributes than the native are available.

However, there’s another local species in my area called Arrowwood — Viburnum rafinesquianum, and based on leaf form distinctions and descriptions in my references, I think my plant might just be V. rafinesquianum. But I’m guessing, so don’t take that to the bank.

What you can count on with this shrub are reliable bloom and fruit production, and excellent nesting habitat for birds as this medium-sized native shrub fills in bare spots in your woodland/natural area. I also use it as a botanical calendar, of sorts.

When my Arrowwood is in full bloom, I know that spring in my Piedmont garden is nearly done. Summer heat and humidity will arrive any minute now, which is why tomato bed preparation is nearing the top of my to-do list. I’ll be relocating my tomatoes from the greenhouse to the garden in the next week or two.

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  1. A Native Understory Contributor: Mapleleaf Viburnum « Piedmont Gardener

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