Years ago, my good friend Laura Hayden (who blogs over at Durable Gardening) let me in on a little horticultural secret. When you come upon a woody shrub that you can’t identify, it behooves you to guess Viburnum. Despite the apparent breadth of this genus implied by Laura’s advice, until recently I knew very little about Viburnum and grew none in my own garden. I cannot think of a better genus for my inaugural Linnaeus Day post. As Michael Dirr shares in his work on the genus, Linnaeus himself classified Viburnum in Species Plantarum (1753).
More specifically, I have chosen to share the history of Viburnum lantana ‘Mohican’, a shrub that I added to my driveway border in the fall of 2010. I hadn’t heard of ‘Mohican’ before finding it on the clearance table of a local garden center that was going out of business. I needed shrubs to fill in the new border, and I was attracted to the upright habit and striking near-white bark of ‘Mohican’.
‘Mohican’ was introduced by Don Egolf of the National Arboretum in 1966. While there is an unexplainable dearth of information about Egolf’s biography available online, he is known for his many plant introductions through the Arboretum up until his death in a 1990 car accident.
Egolf selected ‘Mohican’ from among 87 seedlings grown at the Aboretum from a Polish seed source. It’s interesting to note that the seedling first flowered in 1956, but wasn’t introduced until 10 years later. Nearly a half-century since its introduction into the nursery trade, Dirr still refers to ‘Mohican’ as “superior to the run of the mill Viburnum lantana.” Another Viburnum in my garden, V. x rhytidophylloides ‘Allegheny’, is the result of an Egolf cross between the ‘Mohican’ seedlings and V. rhytidophyllym.
Viburnum lantana is also known as the wayfaring tree. V. lantana is commonly found along roadsides and hedge rows in its native Europe, and would have been a common sight for travelers on foot (wayfarers). At least one source credits 16th century botanist John Gerard for coining this name, while others claim the exact origin of the name is unknown. In her 1837 work The Spirit of the Woods, Rebecca Hay celebrates this common name of V. lantana.
“Way-faring tree! what ancient claim
Hast thou to that right pleasant name?
Was it that some faint pilgrim came
Unhopedly to thee,
In the brown desert’s weary way
‘Mid toil and thirst’s consuming sway,
And there as ‘neath they shade he lay,
Bless’d the way-faring tree?
Or is it that thou lov’st to show
They coronals of fragrant snow,
like life’s spontaneous joys that flow
In paths by thousands beat?
Whate’er it be, I love it well;
A name, methinks, that surely fell
From poet, in some evening dell
Wandering with fancies sweet.”
When I began my research into ‘Mohican’, I didn’t anticipate I’d find anything in its history that would sour my opinion of the plant. But one of the first resources I found was a US Forest Service bulletin that named V. lantana as the “Weed of the Week.” Its fruit is both a favorite of birds and quite virile. Many states, including here in Illinois, have declared V. lantana an invasive species.
Its unclear whether ‘Mohican’ has the same tendency to spread as the species. I certainly won’t know next year, because in an absentminded fit of overaggressive deadheading, I cut all the dead flowers off my ‘Mohican’ thus decapitating its ability to produce fruit for the year.
Like most of the plants in our garden, ‘Mohican’ currently rests in winter dormancy, unchanged in its appearance. But as I walk by it to get in my car each morning, I’ll see it in a new light — the light of its storied history.
Sources: (1) Dirr, Michael. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses. Champaign, IL: Stipes Pub., 1998. Print. (2) Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2011. Print. (3) "Weed of the Week: Wayfaring Tree." Forest Health Protection. U.S. Forest Service. Web. 2012. <http://na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/wayfaring-tree.pdf>. (4) "Viburnum Lantana." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viburnum_lantana>. (5) "Viburnum Lantana 'Mohican'" Arboretum Plant Introductions and Releases. United States National Arboretum, Nov. 1999. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <http://www.usna.usda.gov/Newintro/mohican.pdf> (6) "Wayfaring-tree." Science and Plants for Schools. Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <http://www-saps.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/trees/wayfaring.htm>. (7) "The Woodland Trust | Tree Guide | Wayfaring Tree." The Woodland Trust | British Trees. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. <http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/viburnums/nbnsys0000004326>. (8) Hey, Rebecca. The Spirit of the Woods. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, 1837. Accessed January 22, 2012 at http://books.google.com/books?id=7k1HAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA246&dq=The+Guelder+rose+what+ancient+claim&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZiIcT8q6EIvUgQfbus3bCw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=The%20Guelder%20rose%20what%20ancient%20claim&f=false (9) "A Viburnum Garden." Gardening in the Ozarks. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. . (10) Dirr, Michael. Viburnums. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2007. Print.