Rafinesque Viburnum

Viburnum rafinesquianum

Description & Overview

Rafinesque Viburnum is an attractive Wisconsin native shrub with clusters of pretty white, lace cap flowers that bloom in spring. One of the smallest native Viburnum, it has an oval shape and is somewhat bushy, making it an excellent option for a shrub border or within the understory of larger trees. Bright green leaves are toothed and have a reddish tint when they are young, turning a handsome scarlet-red in fall. Following flowering, drupes appear in August, ripening to a dark purplish-black, feeding birds in late summer.

You may also know this plant as Downy Arrowwood.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 6-8 feet
Mature Spread: 6-8 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Upright, oval, bushy, suckering
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Loamy, average, dry-mesic
Flower: White, lace cap, flat-topped, malodorous
Bloom Period: May-June, mid-late spring
Foliage: Dark green, toothed, both sides have hairs, the underside is paler and hairier, 2-3 inches
Fall Color: Scarlet-red
Fruit Notes: Dark purple drupe, egg-shaped, ¼-½”, single seed inside, August-October

Suggested Uses:

Rafinesque Viburnum enjoys full sun to part shade in well-drained conditions and is versatile, tolerating drought once established. A denizen of forests, Downy Arrowwood is naturally found in the understory of woodlands where it can enjoy the dappled shade. If you removed Buckthorn recently, Downy Arrowwood is a great option as it colonizes and spreads, filling in those newly opened spaces.

Rafinesque Viburnum is typically a dense shrub that can block the view of the neighbors, shield a blinding spotlight or screen an ugly utility box. Naturally suckering, this plant will fill in as a hedge in no time.

This species is super tolerant of urban conditions and air pollution making it a great option for urban areas, parking lots, boulevards, or commercial business parks.

A host plant to a variety of insects, and attracting birds with its nutritious fruit, use Rafinesque Viburnum in a butterfly or bird garden. Plant in a sunny location to get the most flowers and thus fruit. Note: The flowers are what we call “malodorous.” Great for attracting wildlife but maybe not so much for people. It is a personal preference and isn’t bothersome to everyone. The benefits of this shrub outweigh the temporary scent.

Wildlife Value:

Rafinesque Viburnum supports mining bees, long-horned beetles, weevils, aphids, midges, and sawflies.

It is a host plant to Lesser Arrowwood Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon fatifera), Marbled Wave (Orthofidonia tinctaria), Rose Hooktip (Oreta rosea), Henry’s Elfin (Callophyrs henrici), Green Marvel (Agriopodes fallax), Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus), Green Pug (Pasiphila rectangulata), Horrid Zale (Zale horrida), Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea), Crocus Geometer (Zanthotype sospeta), Unsated Sallow (Metaxaglaea inulta), and Dogwood Twig Borer (Oberea tripunctata).

Other visitors include Abbott’s Sphinx (Sphecodina abbottii), Pepper and Salt Skipper (Amblyscirtes hegon), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis), White-M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m album), Viburnum Leaf Beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni), Brown Scoopwing (Calledapteryx dryopterata), Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), Hog Sphinx (Darapsa myron), Azalea Sphinx (Darapsa pholus), and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Black bears, red foxes, skunks, opossums, fox and gray squirrels, chipmunks, and white-footed mice enjoy the fruit.

Birds love the fruit of Rafinesque Viburnum and expect to see Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, White-throated Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Brown Thrashers, Northern Flickers, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, American Robins, Wood Thrushes, Willow Flycatchers, Bobwhite Quails, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, and Purple Finches.

Maintenance Tips:

While drought tolerant once established, do water deeply at least weekly for the first season to help establish healthy roots. Apply a 3” layer of mulch to help keep the roots moist and cool.

Deadheading is not necessary.

Remove unwanted suckers by clipping stems at the base. Viburnum doesn’t need a great deal of pruning but it is good practice to remove any dead or crossing branches. Thinning can be done every three years to encourage new growth. Any pruning should be done after the plant has flowered.


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

Deer and rabbits occasionally browse the foliage if other more appetizing options aren’t available.

While Rafinesque Viburnum is considered to be moderately susceptible to Viburnum Leaf Beetle, it’s still something of which Viburnum owners should be aware. The Viburnum Leaf Beetle (hort.extension.wisc.edu) 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.

Viburnum Clearwing Borer moth (Synanthedon viburni) and the Lesser Viburnum Borer (Synanthedon fatifera) can cause major branch dieback, plant decline, and plant death. Reducing plant stress is the first line of defense; keep plants watered during drought, and do not plant in an area where there is flooding.

Leaf Lore:

There is some disagreement about the family in which the Viburnum genus is placed (including Sambucus). Formerly placed in Caprifoliaceae in 2003, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) suggested moving the genera to Adoxacea, but another reputable organization, the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants, wanted them placed in Viburnaceae. Currently, some scholarly sources place these genera in Caprifoliaceae, others in Adoxacea. Most place the two genera in Viburnaceae.

The specific epithet rafinesquianum is in honor of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, a naturalist of the 19th century.

The common name ‘Arrowwood’ refers to the use of its straight stems for arrows by Indigenous peoples.

Companion Plants:

For a mixed screen, combine Downy Arrowwood with American Filbert, Switch Grass, Taylor Juniper, Gray Dogwood, Star Power Juniper, Degroot’s Spire, Red-twig Dogwood, Common Sweetshrub, or Hedge Cotoneaster.

Consider creating a fall color garden with other natives including Common Witchhazel, Downy Serviceberry, Fragrant Sumac, Carolina Rose, Sugar Maple, Musclewood, Black Gum, Glossy Black Chokeberry, Eastern Wahoo, American Plum, or Witherod Viburnum.

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