David's Viburnum

Viburnum davidii
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle family)
Genus: Viburnum
Species: davidii

I somehow doubt that the product developers of the Mars Candy Company look to nature for inspiration…but if they did, the berries of Viburnum davidii would’ve been the perfect models for the new (and controversial) blue M&Ms. But of course Mother Nature always ups the ante: V. davidii berries have a metallic sheen that makes M&Ms look dull by comparison. Their appearance is most dramatic against the backdrop of dark green leaves and coral stems of V. davidii.

A large and diverse plant group, the viburnums include short and spreading, as well as tall, deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. There’s a viburnum for every setting. Not all are hardy in this area, although most are; and a couple are even native to the Pacific Northwest. Many viburnums thrive here, evidenced by their regular appearance in large-scale commercial, low-maintenance landscapes. As a group, they are characterized by clustered flowers and showy berries, and many of the deciduous types offer fine fall color.

The evergreen Viburnum davidii is generally used as a foundation planting or in front-of-the-border groupings. Its size suits the home landscape well: while it has a fine mounding shape, it seldom exceeds four feet in height with a slightly larger spread. Despite its relatively small size, it makes a strong statement with its six-inch leaves, dark green and deeply veined. Suitable as a ground cover, its branches are substantial and it anchors a bed nicely. In our climate, given adequate moisture and protection from all-day sun, it looks nice year-round. V. davidii benefits from an early morning shower during the summer, to wash the dust from its leaves and keep it looking its best. If scale, thrips, or aphids set up housekeeping, an indicated, all-purpose insecticide can be applied at two-week intervals in early spring. Remember to read the label carefully, and be mindful of interference with bees.

V. davidii prefers acid conditions but it will tolerate alkaline soil. It will do fine in heavy, rich clay, with regular watering and average care. Keep its roots moist with an application of organic mulch; feed it twice a year; and prune to shape in the early spring or, if you want to protect the berry crop, in the fall. Propagate it using semi-ripe cuttings in the summer, or seed in the fall.

The flowers of V. davidii, appearing in the spring, are sometimes described as “insignificant,” “dirty,” or “dull.” I don’t think these adjectives apply. While V. davidii is grown primarly for its foliage and fruit, I find the flowers appropriate to the look of the plant and not at all unattractive. They have no fragrance, however. They do give way to those brilliant blue berries, which can hold on through winter and really add to the charm of this evergreen garden staple. Remember that plants of both sexes are required for berry production.

Enjoy your Viburnum davidii all year; just don’t confuse the berries with M&Ms!