Viburnum Rhytidophyllum

Set your sights on an evergreen viburnum with eye-catching leaf texture.

By: Julie A Martens

Select an evergreen like leatherleaf viburnum to give your landscape year-round color. Known in botanical circles as Viburnum rhytidophyllum, this shrub features leaves with shiny dark green surfaces and a gray felted look beneath. One of its botanical kids, ‘Alleghany’ viburnum, has the same distinctive leaves. This viburnum brings a terrific package to the garden with flowers, berries and striking leaves.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Like many viburnum shrubs, leatherleaf viburnum is remarkably adaptable in terms of planting sites. You can tuck it into full sun or part shade. In Southern areas, give it a spot where it receives afternoon shade. In the very southernmost, hottest areas where Viburnum rhytidophyllum grows (Zone 8), it can yield great results even in deep shade.

Give Viburnum rhytidophyllum soil that drains well and is moderately fertile. This leatherleaf viburnum tolerates alkaline or limey soil, which makes it a great choice in areas where the local soils have a limestone base. Native to central China, Viburnum rhytidophyllum made its debut in landscapes in 1900. While the leaf texture won many fans, the pretty flowers also make this a great viburnum shrub for many uses.

Flowers open in late spring to early summer. Viburnum rhytidophyllum blooms unfurl to form a loose cluster of up to 2,500 individual flowers. The blossoms beckon pollinators by the dozen, including all kinds of beneficial insects, bees and butterflies. Flowers give way to berries that shift from red to glossy black in fall.

Plant breeders have crossed Viburnum rhytidophyllum with other viburnum shrubs to create new plants, like ‘Alleghany’ viburnum (Viburnum x rhytodphylloides ‘Alleghany’) Viburnum ‘Alleghany’ is similar to Viburnum rhytidophyllum in appearance, growing a bit larger from 8 to 10 feet tall.

Viburnum rhytidophyllum is evergreen in the warmest parts of its growing range, but in the northern areas plants may lose leaves in winter or even die to the ground. If leaves drop, wait until spring is well underway before cutting back stems. Viburnum rhytidophyllum is slow to leaf out in spring.

If stems do die, you can cut them to the ground and new growth will rise from the roots, provided they weren’t frozen over winter. New stems won’t flower that year. To help prevent leaf and stem loss, plant Viburnum rhytidophyllum in a protected location in northern areas.

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