Viburnum opulus (common name guelder-rose) is a species of flowering plant in the family Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae) native to Europe, northern Africa and central Asia
The common name ‘guelder rose’ relates to the Dutch province of Gelderland, where a popular cultivar, the snowball tree, supposedly originated. Other common names include water elder, cramp bark, snowball tree and European cranberrybush, though this plant is not closely related to the cranberry. Some botanists also include the North American species Viburnum trilobum as V. opulus var. americanum Ait., or as V. opulus subsp. trilobum (Marshall) Clausen.
V. OPULUS.—Guelder Rose. A native shrub of great beauty, whether in foliage, flower, or fruit. The leaves are variously lobed or deeply toothed, large and handsome, and the flower heads of good size, flat, and composed of a number of small flowers, the outer only being sterile. Individually the flowers are dull and inconspicuous, but being produced in amazing quantity, they have a very pleasing and effective appearance. The great bunches of clear pinkish berries render a fair-sized plant particularly handsome and attractive, and for which alone, as also beauty of autumnal foliage, the shrub is well worthy of extensive culture. It grows fully 15 feet high, and may frequently be seen as much through. V. Opulus sterilis (Snowball Tree) is one of the commonest occupants of our shrubberies, and a decidedly ornamental-flowering shrub. The large, almost globular flower heads hanging from every branch tip, are too well-known to require description, and have made the shrub one of the most popular in ornamental planting. (Webster)
V. opulus is a deciduous shrub growing to 4–5 m (13–16 ft) tall. The leaves are opposite, three-lobed, 5–10 cm (2–4 in) long and broad, with a rounded base and coarsely serrated margins; they are superficially similar to the leaves of some maples, most easily distinguished by their somewhat wrinkled surface with impressed leaf venation. The leaf buds are green, with bud scales.
The hermaphrodite flowers are white, produced in corymbs 4–11 cm (2–4 in) in diameter at the top of the stems; each corymb comprises a ring of outer sterile flowers 1.5–2 cm in diameter with conspicuous petals, surrounding a centre of small (5 mm), fertile flowers; the flowers are produced in early summer, and pollinated by insects. The fruit is a globose bright red drupe 7–10 mm diameter, containing a single seed. The seeds are dispersed by birds.
V. opulus is grown as an ornamental plant for its flowers and berries, growing best on moist, moderately alkaline soils, though tolerating most soil types well. Several cultivars have been selected, including ‘Roseum’ (synonym ‘Sterile’, ‘Snowball’), in which all the flowers are only of the larger sterile type, with globular flower heads. There is some confusion, as there are a few other plants, including other members of the Viburnum genus, also referred to as “snowball bush”.
The shrub is also cultivated as a component of hedgerows, cover plantings, and as part of other naturalistic plantings in its native regions.
It is naturalised in North America, where it is called “European cranberrybush” (although it is not a cranberry).
The cultivars ‘Compactum’, ‘Roseum’ and ‘Xanthocarpum’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
The fruit is edible in small quantities, with a very acidic taste; it can be used to make jelly. It is however very mildly toxic, and may cause vomiting or diarrhoea if eaten in large amounts.
The term cramp bark is related to the properties of the bark’s ability to reduce smooth muscle tightness. It is called cramp bark as relieving this type of muscle tightness is most often associated with relieving women’s menstrual (period) cramps. However, this can also be used during pregnancy for cramps or pain and general muscle cramping.
The Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) From, Wayside and Woodland Trees A POCKET GUIDE TO THE BRITISH SYLVA, BY EDWARD STEP, F.L.S.
Although the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) and the Wayfaring-tree (Viburnum lantana) are very closely related, the differences between them are so great that there is little danger of any person with ordinary powers of observation confusing them. The Guelder Rose does not grow so tall as its congener, twelve feet being about the extreme height to which it attains in a wild state, and ordinarily it is several feet less.
It is not so fond of dry soils, and is more frequently found in the copse, where it is not subject to the extremes of heat and cold that have produced the hairy covering of V. lantana. The stems and branches are quite smooth, and the leaf-buds are wrapped in scales. The young leaves, it is true, when they break from the bud, are covered with down, but they throw this off as they expand to their full size, and become smooth on either side.
Instead of the leaf being heart-shaped, it is divided into three deeply toothed lobes, and it will be noted that at the base of the leaf-stalk there is a pair of slender stipules, which lantana never has. The cyme or flower-head is more rounded, and whilst the mass of flowers are of the same size (a quarter of an inch) as those of the Wayfaring-tree, those in the outer row are three times the size—but they are entirely without stamens or pistil! It would appear that in order to make the flower-cluster more conspicuous, and thus attract insects, the material that should have gone to furnish these organs has been used up in the broader and whiter corolla. The inner and perfect flowers are creamy-white, bell-shaped, and they secrete honey. Both stamens and stigma mature simultaneously.
The fruits are almost round, and of a clear, translucent red. Respecting these fruits, we cannot forbear from quoting a remark of Hamerton’s. He says, writing as the French recorder of the Sylvan Year: “For any one who enjoys the sight of red berries in the most jewel-like splendour, there is nothing in winter like the Viburnum, the species we call Viorne obier, and if you meet with a fine specimen just when it is caught by the level rays of a crimson sunset, you will behold a shrub that seems to have come from that garden of Aladdin where the fruit of the trees were jewels.” These fruits, though enticing to the sight, and juicy, are nauseous to the taste.
The name Guelder Rose is a strange case of transference from a cultivated to a wild plant: the var. sterilis, in which all the flowers are like the outer row in the normal cluster, was first cultivated in Gelderland; so Gerarde tells us that “it is called in Dutch, Gheldersche Roose; in English, Gelder’s Rose.” In the Cotswolds it is known as King’s Crown, from the “King of the May” having been crowned with a chaplet of it. Another name for it is Water Elder, presumably given on account of the similar appearance of the flower-clusters in Viburnum and Sambucus.
The distribution of the Guelder Rose as a wild plant extends northwards to Caithness, although it is rare in Scotland. It occurs throughout Ireland.