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What Is a Leatherleaf Viburnum?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Leatherleaf viburnum or Viburnum rhytidophyllum is a flowering evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub native to the central and western regions of China. These shrubs have dark-green leaves and yield clusters of cream-colored flowers. Growers around the world value the flowers for their showy blossoms and cultivate them in mass plantings, as specimens or as shrub borders.

These shrubs, which are members of the Adoxaceae family, usually grow between six and 15 feet tall (1.83 to 4.57 m), with an approximately equal spread. Young plants have an upright form that becomes more open as the shrub matures. They have multiple stems and a layer of short, woolly hair covers the grayish-brown bark.

Leatherleaf viburnum shrubs have shiny, dark-green, lance-shaped leaves with rounded bases and pointed tips. The leaves grow between three and seven inches (7.62 to 17.78 cm) long, with prominent veins. They have a rough upper surface texture and hairy lower surfaces, with smooth outer margins. Their simple, alternate leaves stay green year round in frost-free climates.

Four to eight inch (10.16 to 20.32 cm), flat-topped clusters of fragrant creamy-white or yellowish flowers blossom during the spring. Showy clusters of berry-like fruits called drupes replace the blossoms. The fruits, which ripen in September, are red when immature but black when ripe.

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No serious disease or insect problems usually affect leatherleaf viburnum shrubs. They transplant easily and have little or no difficulty becoming established. These shrubs require protection from harsh winds and need to be watered regularly. Pruning should occur right after flowering.

Leatherleaf viburnum shrubs propagate best by semi-ripe cuttings. They can be difficult to germinate by seed, because they need a period of cold dormancy and stratification. These shrubs do not self-pollinate; two different plants are necessary before flowers and fruit can occur.

They grow well in most types of well-drained soil and can adapt to full sun or partial shade. Plants that grow in hot southern climates might need protection from direct or intense sunlight. Leatherleaf viburnums are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 9. Shrubs that grow in harsh winter climates sometimes die back to the ground, but they usually send up sprouts during the spring.

Several cultivated varieties, or cultivars, are commercially available. Variegatum has cream-colored patterning on its foliage, while Cree, which is somewhat more cold hardy than the species in general, yields large numbers of flowers. Roseum yields pink flower buds, but its flowers look much like those of regular leatherleaf viburnum.

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