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Plant of the Week: Virburnum, Korean Spice

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Korean Spice Virburnum
Latin: Viburnum carlesii

Picture of an Korean spice viburnum plant
The Korean spice viburnum has a very agreeable fragrance that makes this plant a worthwhile addition to the shrub border.

Viburnums have long been popular in American gardens, but they have about them a degree of sameness that is both confusing and a bit off-putting. While most are large white orbs of color when they bloom, a few stand out from the crowd due to their pinkish tints and spicy fragrance.

While some garden authorities go agog over viburnums, most gardeners are a bit more restrained as they view the many similar kinds offered by nurserymen. The experts extol the multiple seasons of interest viburnums provide by providing good bloom display, beautiful berries and exceptional fall color. While this occasionally happens, it too often seems to occur in some other garden, not our own.

The best way to assure getting the multiple seasons of interest from a viburnum planting is to plant several species together with each doing its part of the job. For fragrance, the best viburnum is Viburnum carlesii or one of its several offsprings.

The Korean spice viburnum is a 4- to 5-foot tall deciduous shrub that spreads 6 to 8 feet wide. Like most deciduous viburnums, it has soda-straw sized stems covered with widely spaced, opposite, 4-inch long fuzzy, toothed leaves.

Its tubular flowers are produced on the ends of branches in early spring just as the leaves are unfolding. In bud, the tight 3-inch clusters of blooms are cherry pink, but as the flowers open, they show their white face to the world. The fragrance is a sweet, spicy, clove-scented aroma that is one of the most agreeable fragrances to be found in the garden. The berries are red, changing to black but hidden in the foliage and not showy.

V. x burkwoodii, or its selection ‘Mohawk’ and V. x juddii, are all spicy-scented, pinkish-tinted viburnums that have the Korean spice viburnum as one of the parents in the hybrid. They have the great fragrance of the spice viburnum but are larger plants, usually reaching 10 feet tall and wide. None have especially good fall color.

The spicebush viburnums are great additions for the garden as a tall screen or for massing with other deciduous shrubs. Because of their fragrance, they should be used near patios, entryways or bedroom windows. The fragrance persists for about 10 days, so make sure the plant has the other ornamental characteristics needed before giving it the most valuable space in the garden.

Viburnums do best in sunny sites with well drained, but uniformly moist, slightly acidic soil. They’re hardy from zones 4 through 8 with the hybrids being better in the warmer parts of the region. Plants tolerate pruning well to maintain size. To maintain size, cut plants back hard every few years just after flowering and allow them to regrow to the desired size.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - March 20, 2009


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.