This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - In loose, compound, flat, terminal clusters, 3 to 5 in. across; the outer, showy, white flowers each about 1 in. across, neutral; inner ones very much smaller, perfect. Calyx 5-parted; corolla 5-lobed; 5 stamens; 3 stigmas. Stem: A widely and irregularly branching shrub, sometimes 10 ft. high; the young twigs rusty scurfy. Leaves: Opposite, rounded or broadly ovate, pointed at the tip, finely saw-edged, unevenly divided by midrib, scurfy on veins beneath. Fruit: Not edible, berry-like, at first coral-red, afterward darker.
Preferred Habitat - Cool, low, moist woods.
Flowering Season - May - June.
Distribution - North Carolina and Michigan, far northward.
Widespread, irregular clusters of white bloom, that suggest heads of hydrangea whose plan has somehow miscarried, form a very decorative feature of the woods in May, when the shrubbery in Nature's garden, as in men's, is in its glory. For what reason are there two sizes and kinds of flowers in each cluster? Around the outer margin are large showy shams: they lack the essential organs, the stamens and pistil; therefore what use are they? Undoubtedly they are mere advertisements to catch the eye of passing insects - no small service, however. It is the inconspicuous little flowers grouped within their circle that attend to the serious business of life. The shrub found it good economy to increase the size of the outer row of flowers, even at the expense of their reproductive organs, simply to add to the conspicuous-ness of the clusters, when so many blossoms enter into fierce competition with them for insect trade. Many beetles, attracted by the white color, come to feed on pollen, and often destroy the anthers in their greed. But the lesser bees (Andrena chiefly), and more flies, whose short tongues easily obtain the accessible nectar, render constant service. These welcome guests we have to thank for the clusters of coral-red berries that make the shrub even more beautiful in September than in May.
Because it sometimes sends its straggling branches downward in loops that touch the ground and trip up the unwary pedestrian, who presumably hobbles off in pain, the bush received a name with which the stumbler will be the last to find fault. From the bark of the Wayfaring Tree of the Old World (V. lantana), the tips of whose procumbent branches often take root as they lie on the ground, is obtained bird-lime. No warm, sticky scales enclose the buds of our hardy hobble-bush; the only protection for its tender baby foliage is in the scurfy coat on its twigs; yet with this thin covering, or without it, the young leaves safely withstand the intense cold of northern winters.
The chief beauty of the High Bush-Cranberry, Cranberry Tree, or Wild Guelder-rose (V. Opu/us) lies in its clusters of bright red, oval, very acid " berries" (drupes), that are commonly used by country people as a substitute for the fruit they so closely resemble. This is a symmetrical, erect, tall, smooth shrub, found in moist, low ground. Among the Berkshires it grows in perfection. From New Jersey, Michigan, and Oregon far northward is its range; also in Europe and Asia. The broadly ovate, saw-edged, three-lobed leaves are more or less hairy along the veins on the underside. Like the hobble-bush, this one produces an outer circle of showy, neutral flowers, as advertisements, on its peduncled, flat cluster; and small, perfect ones, to reproduce the species, in June or July. As the flies and small pollen-collecting bees move rapidly over a corymb to feast on the layer of nectar freely exposed for their benefit, they usually cross-fertilize the flowers; for, as Miiller pointed out, the anthers and stigmas of each come in contact with different parts of the insect's feet or tongue. Beetles, which visit the clusters in great numbers, often prove destructive visitors. Kerner claims that nectar is secreted in the leaves of this species, whether in the two glands that appear at the top of the petioles or not, he does not say. Of what possible advantage to the plant could such an arrangement be? Plants, as well as humans, are not in business for philanthropy.
No garden is complete - was garden ever complete? - without the beautiful snowball bush, a sterile variety of this shrub, with whose abundant balls of white flowers every one is familiar. When various members of the viburnum and the hydrangea tribes are cultivated, the corollas of both the small interior flowers and those in the showy exterior circle become largely developed, while the reproductive organs of the former gradually become abortive. The snowball bush rather overdoes its advertising business; for however attractive its round white masses of sterile bloom, the effect is of no advantage to itself.
In light, dry, rocky woods, from North Carolina and Minnesota, far northward, grows the common Maple-leaved Arrow-wood or Dockmackie (V. acerifolhim), which one might easily mistake for a maple sapling when it is not in flower or fruit. All the blossoms in its slender peduncled, flat-topped, white clusters are perfect; none are sterile for advertising purposes merely, as in the cases of so many of its relatives. The five stamens protrude from each five-lobed little flower for plain reasons. The opposite leaves are broadly ovate, three-ribbed, three-lobed, coarsely toothed, acute at the tip, and, except for their soft hairiness underneath, are too like maple leaves to be mistaken. In autumn, when they take on rich tints, and the clusters of "berries " become first crimson, then nearly black, the shrub is a delight to see.
To become familiar with one of the Viburnum bushes is to recognize any member of the tribe when in blossom or fruit, for all spread more or less flattened, compound cymes of white flowers in late spring or early summer, followed by red or very dark " berries" (drupes); but it is on the leaves that we depend to name a species. The opposite, slender petioled, pale leaves of the Arrow-wood, or Mealy-tree (V. dentatum), have no lobes; but are ovate, coarsely toothed, pointed at the tip, prominently pinnately veined. All the flowers in a cyme are perfect; and the drupes, which are at first blue, become nearly black when fully ripe. In moist, or even wet, ground, from the Georgia mountains, western New York, and Minnesota far northward, this smooth, slender, gray shrub is found. Its wood once furnished the Indians with arrows.
A much lower growing, but similar, bush, the Downy-leaved Arrow-wood (V. pubescens), formerly counted a mere variety of the preceding, may be known by the velvety down on the under side of its leaves. It grows in rocky, wooded places, often on some high bank above a stream. Beetles and the less specialized bees visit the flat-topped flower clusters abundantly in May. Short-tongued visitors quickly lick up the abundant nectar secreted at the base of each little style, cross-fertilizing their entertainers as they journey across the cyme. So widely do the anthers diverge, that pollen must often drop on the stigma of a neighboring floret, and quite as often a flower is likely to be self-fertilized through the curvature of the filaments.
The Withe-rod or Appalachian Tea (V. cassinoidei) - V. nudum of Gray - is found in swamps and wet ground from North Carolina and Minnesota northward, flowering in May or June. Its dense clusters of perfect, small white flowers, on a rather short peduncle, are followed by oval "berries" that, although pink at first, soon turn a dark blue, with a bloom like the huckleberry's. The opposite, oval to oblong, rather thick, smooth leaves and the somewhat scurfy twigs help the novice to name this common shrub, whose tough, pliable branches make excellent binders for farmer's bundles, but whose leaves cannot be recommended as a substitute for tea.
Beautiful enough for any gentleman's lawn is the Sweet Viburnum, Nanny-berry, Sheep-berry, or Nanny-bush, as it is variously called (V. Lenlago). Indeed, its name appears in many nurserymen's catalogues. From Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri far northward it grows in rich, moist soil, sometimes attaining the height of a tree, more frequently that of a good-sized shrub. A profusion of dense white, broad flower clusters, seated among the rich green terminal leaves in May, indicate a feast for migrating birds and hungry beasts, including the omnivorous small boy in October, when the bluish-black, bloom-covered, sweet, edible "berries" ripen. A peculiarity of the ovate, long-tapering, and finely saw-edged leaves is that their long petioles often broaden out and become wavy margined.
Another Viburnum, with smooth, bluish-black, sweet, and edible fruit, that ripens a month earlier than the nanny-berry's, is the similar Black Haw, Stag-bush, or Sloe (V. prunifolium). As its Latin name indicates, the leaves suggest those of a plum tree. It is a very early bloomer, the flat-topped white clusters appearing in April, and lasting through June, in various parts of its range from the Gulf States to southern New England and Michigan. Unlike the hobble-bush and the withe-rod, both the nanny-berry and the black haw have conspicuous winter buds, the latter bush often clothing its tender undeveloped foliage with warm-looking reddish down, although few of its naked kin have so southerly a range.