Blackhaw Viburnum

Viburnum prunifolium

Description & Overview

Blackhaw Viburnum is a Wisconsin native understory shrub or small tree with clusters of white flowers in spring that give way to blue-black berries in fall. Dark green foliage is present throughout most of the growing season, eventually turning shades of red and purple in autumn.

You may also know this native shrub as Smooth Blackhaw.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 10-15 feet
Mature Spread: 6-12 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Multi-stemmed. Rarely single-stem.
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Tolerates most soils once established. Alkaline and drought tolerant.
Flower: Fragrant, white, ¼” flowers arranged in a 3-5 inch cyme.
Bloom Period: Late May through June
Foliage: Glossy, green, dark green. 1-3 inch long. Oblong and finely serrated.
Fall Color: Reddish purple
Fruit Notes: Drupe: Yellow berries that mature to blue-black; single seed (stone) inside each fruit.

Suggested Uses:

Blackhaw Viburnum is naturally found in moist thickets, rich uplands, limestone glades, and woodland borders. Although often found in rich, moist, well-draining soil, it can tolerate a very wide range of soils once established and even the occasional drought. It is often found in the understory in partial shade but produces more flowers in full sun. The form is variable but it is typically a multi-stem shrub, although occasionally you may come across a single-stem specimen. In general, as it matures, Blackhaw Viburnum develops a form similar to a hawthorn.

Restoration/Naturalization: An area in which the understory has recently been cleared of buckthorn would make a great site for Blackhaw Viburnum as it holds many benefits for wildlife and will, albeit slowly, spread over time.

Screen: Blackhaw Viburnum’s size and density would make this plant a great screen. Plant between the house and a road or sidewalk to lessen visibility, or to block the site of a neighbor’s pool.

Edible Landscape/Bird Garden: The berries are edible and made into jams and jellies. Although dogs and cats may get an upset stomach, the birds relish the berries! Be sure to plant more than one Blackhaw, as the flowers must be cross-pollinated by a like neighbor.

Wildlife Value:

Blackhaw Viburnum is pollinated by several insect types, especially small bees, and flies. Cuckoo Bees, Mason Bees, Solitary Bees, and Sweat Bees are attracted to both the pollen and nectar of the flowers. Bee Flies, Tachinid Flies, and Muscid Flies also visit the flowers.

Fruits make an excellent food source for wildlife – Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, Grosbeaks, and American Robin are just a few of the birds that feed on the fruit. Small mammals such as chipmunks, squirrels, and White-footed Mice feed on the fruit as well.

Maintenance Tips:

Prune immediately after flowering. Dead, old stems can be pruned out in winter – be sure to sanitize your shears between cuts!

Prevent stress during the establishment period by providing supplemental water and using mulch to keep the roots cool. Avoid causing any unnecessary injuries to bark as this will invite diseases to take hold. Together, these measures will prevent infection and give the shrub time to acclimate to its new environment.


Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Blackhaw Viburnum is usually left untouched by deer, though deer would not hesitate if there was no other option.

While Blackhaw is considered to be one of the least susceptible varieties to be affected by Viburnum Leaf Beetle, it’s still something of which viburnum owners should be aware. The Viburnum Leaf Beetle feeds on the leaves, skeletonizing them, contributing to the decline of the plant over time if infestations are severe year after year. A systemic chemical treatment can be applied at the manufacturer’s discretion.

Viburnum borers are wood-boring insects that feed on viburnum trunks, branches, and roots. Branch dieback will appear, as will entry wounds at the base of the plant. There isn’t much research that shows Blackhaw Viburnum as particularly susceptible, but it is something to be aware of, especially if you have other types of Viburnum in your landscape.

Fungal diseases and cankers can develop when plants are suffering from stress, whether it’s due to drought, pruning, wounds, or other stressors.

Leaf Lore:

The leaves of Blackhaw Viburnum resemble a plum tree leaf, hence its Latin species name prunifolium.

The common name Blackhaw is a reference to its dark bark, as well as to its resemblance to hawthorns (although they are not closely related).

Blackhaw Viburnum was previously in the same family as Honeysuckles (Caprifoliaceae), but after further analysis, it was placed into the same family as Elderberries – Adoxaceae.

Indigenous peoples have used Blackhaw Viburnum in a wash to treat mouth sores, muscle spasms, and diaphoresis (cold sweats).

Companion Plants:

Blackhaw Viburnum is found in the understory among other larger native plants such as:

Smaller understory companion plants might include:

  • Elm-leafed Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia)
  • Hot Lips Turtlehead (Chelone ‘Hot Lips’)
  • Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’)
  • Sun King Aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’)

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