Wayfaring-tree is an introduced perennial shrub with multiple stems growing from 8 to 15 feet high forming a dense rounded shrub. The plant escaped from ornamental plantings where it has been used for hedges and screenings due to its dense multi-stem habit. Even though it is invasive in the wild, it is still widely recommended by nurseries for shrub border plantings.
The bark is initially smooth and gray with visible lenticels, becoming somewhat ripply and then scaly with age.
Twigs are gray-brown with fine hair and leaf buds are without scales, stalked and a fuzzy grayish-green. Flower buds are rounded.
The leaves are opposite, 2 to 5 inches long, oval to lanceolate in shape, thick, with small coarse teeth on the margins, dark green on the upper surface and a fine vein network between the sunken main veins that gives a quilt-like appearance. The under surface is pale in color, finely hairy all over as is the leaf stalk. Leaf tips are broadly pointed, bases are slightly heart shaped. At the base of each leaf stalk are a pair of narrow strap-like stipules. Fall color turns reddish.
The inflorescence is a flat-topped compound cluster (a cyme) composed of many smaller clusters of stalked flowers appearing at the ends of new twig growth. Clusters can be up to 5+ inches wide.
Flowers are a creamy-white, 5-parted with petals reflexing when open. The five stamens are placed alternating with the petals and exserted beyond the corolla. The filaments are whitish with yellow anthers. The yellow-green stigma is recessed at the bottom of the corolla. The calyx has 5 very short lobes. Stalks of the flower clusters have fine whitish hair. Various publications list the flowers with no fragrance, with fragrance and even with fishy fragrance.
Fruit: Fertile flowers produce a somewhat flattened elliptical drupe about 1/3 inch long, green initially then progressing to yellow to orange-red and finally to black. All the colors are sometimes visible on the same plant. Each drupe contains an ovoid brown ribbed hard seed about 5 mm wide.
Habitat: Wayfaring-tree grows in average well drained soils in full sun to partial shade. It adapts well to drier conditions. Basal suckering allows the shrub to spread aggressively.
Names: This species was formerly in the Honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family. In the never ending quest for specificity, botanists have recently moved the Viburnum genus into the Adoxaceae plant family, which is a small group of 5 genera of shrubs that have opposite leaves, mostly 5-petaled flowers that produce a small drupe. The genus name Viburnum is the Latin name for a European species of this genus. The species name lantana is the late Latin name for Viburnum, thus you have both genus and species meaning the same. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: One is advised not to plant this species but use other Viburnums that have equally showy flowers but are not aggressive spreaders - such as Downy Arrowwood, V. rafinesquianum; or Cranberry (Viburnum opulus).
Above: The inflorescence is a flat-topped cyme composed of many smaller clusters of 5-parted white flowers.
Below: The flower stalks, leaf stalks, leaf stipules and the underside of leaves are all finely hairy.
Below: The quilt-like appearance of the upper leaf surface is caused by a fine vein network that appears sunken into the leaf surface.
Below: Leaf buds are elongated and without scales whereas flower buds are more round.
Below: Various stages of fruit development with the final stage being black.
Below: With multiple stems growing from 8 to 15 feet high the plant forms a dense rounded shrub.
Wayfaring-tree is mostly found growing in the NE section of North America from Kentucky and Virginia north to Ontario and Quebec. There are also populations reported in the western states of WA, MT, WY and CO. It has not been found in the wild in Minnesota, but does grow in ornamental populations. The species is widely grown in England for hedgerows. It is found throughout Europe and Western Asia.
There are six Viburnums found in Minnesota outside of gardens. Four are native - American Cranberrybush (Highbush Cranberry), V. opulus var. americanum; Squashberry, V. edule; Downy Arrowwood, V. rafinesquianum; and Nannyberry, V. lentago. Two are introduced - European Cranberrybush, V. opulus var. opulus, and Wayfaring-tree, V. lantana. Another Virburnum that will grow nicely in Minnesota, but is not native to the area is Southern Arrowwood, V. dentatum.
Toxicity: The fruit of Wayfaring-tree is mildly toxic to humans causing stomach upset and possibly diarrhea.
Pests: Viburnums are subject to damage from the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni, a native of Europe, which first was found in North America in 1947. The larvae feed on the leaves. Female beetles hollow out an egg cavity on the twigs to hold their eggs which over-winter and hatch in the spring. Certain species of Viburnum are more susceptible than others to the pest with V. dentatum, V. rafinesquianum, V. nudum, and V. opulus var. americana being most susceptible. V. lantana is less susceptible than the above. These species will succumb to the pest in 2 to 3 years of infestation unless the eggs are destroyed. For just a few plants, cut off twigs with egg cases in late fall after the beetles have died.[Detailed PDF]
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"