Viburnum opulus

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Viburnum opulus
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Plant with fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Adoxaceae
Genus: Viburnum
Species: V. opulus
Binomial name
Viburnum opulus

Viburnum opulus (common name guelder-rose[1]) is a species of flowering plant in the family Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae) native to Europe, northern Africa and central Asia.[2]


Viburnum opulus Sterilis

The common name 'guelder rose' relates to the Dutch province of Gelderland, where a popular cultivar, the snowball tree, supposedly originated.[3] 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.


Flowers (left) and fruit

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 valvate 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 center 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',[4] 'Roseum'[5] and 'Xanthocarpum'[6] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Other uses

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 diarrhea if eaten in large amounts.[7]

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.[8]

Cultural meaning

Viburnum opulus (Kalyna) is one of the National symbols of Ukraine.[9] Mentions of the bush can be found throughout the Ukrainian folklore such as songs, picturesque art, Ukrainian embroidery, and others. Chervona Kalyna was the anthem of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Kalyna Country is an ecomuseum in Canada.

This bush's symbolic roots can be traced to the Slavic paganism of millennia ago. According to a legend Kalyna was associated with the birth of the Universe, the so-called Fire Trinity: the Sun, the Moon, and the Star.[10][11] Its berries symbolize blood and the undying trace of family roots. Kalyna is often depicted on the Ukrainian embroidery: towels and shirts. In Slavic paganism kalyna also represents the beauty of a young lady which rhymes well in the Ukrainian language: Ka-ly-na - Div-chy-na.[12][13][14] That consistency was reviewed by numerous Ukrainian folklorists such as Nikolay Kostomarov, Oleksandr Potebnia (founder of the Kharkiv Linguistic School).

In Popular Culture

The Russian composer, writer, and folklorist, Ivan Petrovich Larionov, is most famously remembered for Kalinka, a song he composed in 1860, which remains one of Russia's most famous and most performed songs.

The most notable arrangement of Kalinka, which is traditionally performed by the Alexandrov Ensemble, turned the frivolous song into an operatic aria. The first Ensemble soloist to perform this was Pyotr Tverdokhlebov, but the first tenor to earn the title of "Mr. Kalinka" was Victor Ivanovich Nikitin at the Berlin peace concert of August 1948, where he sang three encores of the song. The title is unofficial and awarded by the audience and journalists present at successful Ensemble concerts where Kalinka earns numerous encores. A definitive recording of Kalinka was made in 1963 at the Abbey Road Studios in London, by the lyric tenor Evgeny Belyaev, with the Alexandrov Ensemble, under the direction of Boris Alexandrovich Alexandrov. Belyaev earned the Mr. Kalinka title at the London concerts of 1956 and 1963. Since then, there have been several Mr. Kalinkas - including Vasily Ivanovich Shtefutsa and Vadim Petrovich Ananyev.

Kalinka has been covered by many Russian as well as non-Russian artists and groups. The song has also been featured in television commercials and shows, video games, and films around the world.


  1. "BSBI List 2007" (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 2014-10-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of Britain p.143.
  4. "RHS Plant Selector - Viburnum opulus 'Compactum'". Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "RHS Plant Selector - Viburnum opulus 'Roseum'". Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "RHS Plant Selector - Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum'". Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Plants for a Future database
  8. CRAMP BARK: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD
  9. Peacebuilding with Women in Ukraine: Using Narrative to Envision a Common Future by Maureen Flaherty, Lexington Books, 2012, ISBN 0739174045 (page 172)
  10. Lady of Prykarpattia (Ukrainian)
  11. Ukrainian embroidery (Ukrainian)
  12. Doctor Bozhko, Agrarian Sciences. Trees in culture by folk. (Ukrainian)
  13. Doctor Kuzmenko, Philological Sciences. The symbolics of guilder rose in Ukrainian songs of the 20th century national liberating movements. (English)/(Ukrainian)
  14. a kalyna ne verba-live(Natalka Karpa) (youtube)
  1. Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. Hodder & Stoughton.
  2. Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan.
  3. Flora Europaea: Viburnum opulus
  4. Plants for a Future: Viburnum opulus