sentimental shrub: viburnum sieboldii

viburnum sieboldii fruit detail
COARSE AND SLIGHTLY UNKEMPT AS IT MAY BE, Viburnum sieboldii was one of my first viburnums and is still beloved here.  And as if it knows it has some rough edges to make up for, it gives me little extras, in addition to being easy to grow. There is fruit the birds enjoy that evolves through several colors as it ripens over a long period, and foliage that smells like a somewhat funky pineapple to me when rubbed or crushed (one not-quite-aroma-therapeutic way to tell if V. sieboldii is the plant you’re looking at).  

viburnum sieboldii
My old 20-by-12-foot plant—really more of a multi-trunked small tree than a shrub at this age—is starting to decline after more than 20 years. It still wants to put on a good show despite its advancing age, though, with creamy flowers in late spring (above), lustrous foliage, and fruit in late summer into fall that matures from orangey-gold to red to blue-black (below and top). Even after the birds have taken the fruit, the picked-over stems that held it remain red and flashy.

viburnum sieboldii2
The most popular variety, ‘Seneca,’ has the showiest, longest-lasting fruit, but there’s a downside: It is said in various references to stay firm enough to resist the birds’ advances. Where’s the fun in that? (Answer: for the gardener–and to be fair, other sources rate it as a bird plant, so who knows?) Like the species (such as my plant is), ‘Seneca’ is hardy to Zones 4-7, and is adaptable to part shade.

viburnum sieboldii in fruit
Full disclosure: I see the siebold viburnum is on some mid-Atlantic invasive-species lists including one in central New Jersey, or on “watchlists,” including Pennsylvania’s, but in my zone I’ve not had offspring appear.  I cannot say the same for the doublefile viburnum, Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum, a prodigious producer of seedlings even here in Zone 5B year after year. It also makes such lists with regularity, as does the European cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus) and the linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum)—Asian species, or Asian and European in the case of the opulus, that are widely sold and grown as ornamentals.

As these lists point out (read Connecticut’s explanation, for instance), this is particularly troublesome outside a cultivated setting—meaning when used not in a tended garden but in “open spaces,” these plants are of even greater concern.

What will I do when my plant dies? Though I may not replace it with the same species, I have to credit the siebold viburnum as one of the first plants that taught me to garden for the birds, and about multi-season plants in general.  To help me in my pondering, the American Horticultural Society has an extensive article about native Viburnum species, and I’ll be pulling Michael Dirr’s viburnum book off the shelf here, too.

  1. Eileen says:

    I have a doublefile viburnum that I adore. I’m in the Seattle area and I haven’t seen any problems with viburnum babies. Just last week I bought my second viburnum, a korean spice, after reading your recommendation here. Can’t wait to get a whiff of it in the spring! I’m hoping it’s a little more drought tolerant than the doublefile, which would be the perfect plant if it didn’t force me to drag out my LOOOONNGG hose to keep it from dying every August.

  2. Karen says:

    I’ll be interested to learn which viburnum you choose. I don’t have one currently but would like to plant one in my garden in RI. It must be somewhat drought tolerant and pretty shade tolerant. I’d like it to grow taller than the 6-foot fence it will be planted against.

  3. Mari says:


    Glad you weathered the weather! My snowball viburnum is blooming again (well, it’s got one small snowball). Are you familiar with them re-blooming? It’s four years old and has never done this before.


    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Mari. I have seen the occasional rebloom on so many things here over the years, even some late flowers on spring magnolias and even the occasional few flowers on forsythia in fall. I don’t really know what the reason is, other than a perfect set of weather conditions to make the plant think that’s the thing to do on that one stem or two. There is at least one viburnum that does rebloom, e.g. ‘Summer Snowflake,’ also known as ‘Watanabe’ and a few other names (just to confuse things), but it’s a lacecap flower, not a snowball shape.

  4. Mary Murphy says:

    Hi Margaret: I also love Viburnums and have three: “Shasta”, ‘Summer Snowflake” (which does re-bloom sporatically during the summer) and “Popcorn”. They are such easy to care for shrubs and are so glorious in the Spring with their pure white layers of lacecap flowers, and then their beautiful fall color followed by their berries. What’s not to love?

    I’m glad that you are promoting this genus of shrubs and, I must tell you how much I enjoy your Blog. I wish I was your neighbor and gardening friend!

    Enjoy the rest of the gardening season !!!

  5. Barb says:

    Viburnums are one of the backbones of my perimeter garden. Although 5 years into their lifetime, I am just now wondering if I have the appropriate polinators to give me blooms and berries – blooms are no problem, it’s the berries that are missing. Can you send me some wisdom of how to find the correct pollinator to ensure berries?

  6. Sandra Jonas says:

    The berries on some Viburnums take a frost or two to soften them enough for the birds. So the birds get these berries later in the season when there is not much else.
    Mother Nature is so smart!

  7. tom st dennis says:

    We have several sieboldii in central ny, the oldest is 25 years and going strong. Was moved it after first ten years quite roughly, lingerd for few years and then took off. We love everything about the plant, especially the deer aversion, even during times of famine when the have attacked plants that were heralded as bullet proof. Impossibe to find more plants in our area. Does anyone know of a source or best way to probigate this species? Tom

  8. Avery Gilbert says:

    Hi Margaret! I know this viburnum sieboldii post is several years old but… I’m wondering if you know if v. sieboldii can be kept to a pretty narrow width? I’m thinking of it for a privacy screen in my not so huge backyard and love the height of it and its various features but my space can’t handle a very wide plant. Other viburnum species seem to spread to 12 ft wide which would be too wide for our space.

    Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      Over many years it grows into a small tree. I would say mine is 10 feet wide up higher, but wave-shaped and growing from one primary trunk that then branches off wider maybe 4 feet above ground level. So at the bottom it’s narrower than up top by far…but again that’s just how my one specimen grows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.