Shasta Doublefile ViburnumViburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Shasta'
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Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Shasta'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Shasta Doublefile Viburnum is a truly spectacular shrub that is a drop-dead beautiful addition to your garden. Give it a prime location and enjoy its layered branches, spreading 12 feet or more across, laden with large white blooms in spring like a wedding cake. In summer the flowers give way to an abundance of red berries, and in fall the colors of red and purple are spectacular. Easily grown, it rivals flowering dogwoods for beauty, and makes a striking specimen for a prime spot in your garden. Allow enough room for its final development.
Full sun to partial shade is ideal for the Shasta Doublefile Viburnum, which grows well in zone 5. It will grow in all kinds of soils, from acid to alkaline, and sands to clays. Usually free of pests and diseases it doesn’t even need pruning to develop its unique layered form – put away the trimmers. Spring mulch to conserve moisture and provide nutrients is all you might want to do, and water during longer dry periods.
Some shrubs are just drop-dead beautiful, yet often overlooked, perhaps because they only take on their full beauty after they have grown for a while. They don’t look so great at the garden center, and many people think ‘boring’ when they see ‘Viburnum’ on a tag. Don’t make this mistake about the Shasta Doublefile Viburnum, though, or you will miss out on a garden treasure that many say is as wonderful as a dogwood, and a lot easier to grow. This is a shrub that we feast our eyes on in three seasons of the year. In spring the amazing white blooms, in doubled rows along the horizontal branches, looks like icing on a wedding cake. In summer the cluster of red and then black berries also line out in double file along the branches. Then in fall the leaves make a gorgeous show of reds and purples that give oaks and maples a run for their money. What a shrub, and one that always sends shivers down my spine whenever I see it at any time of year – even the winter skeleton is graceful and striking.
The Shasta Doublefile Viburnum is a medium-sized deciduous shrub with a structure almost unique among deciduous plants. It has one or several central trunks which send out horizontal branches, forming a broad, relatively low plant with tiers of branches like a wedding cake. The graceful leaves are tapering ovals with a pointed tip, about 4 inches long, with finely-toothed edges and prominent veins like ribs. They are a non-glossy mid-green, turning bright to dark red and rich purples in fall. The bark on the bare stems is light tan-beige with a slightly roughened texture. This plant grows at a moderate to rapid pace, forming a shrub to 8 feet tall and 10 or 12 feet wide, with branches to the ground. Older plants in good locations can reach 10 feet and be 15 feet across, so allow enough room when planting.
Flowers form in spring all along the horizontal branches, in a double row at the bases of the leaves – the ‘doublefile’ of the name. They appear in April, May or even June, depending on your zone. The flower heads are 5 to 6 inches across, and resemble lace-cap hydrangeas. The center of the head is filled with small, star-shaped white blooms, and the outer ring is made up of pure-white, large flowers, up to 1½ inches across, with some also scattered through the smaller central flowers. The flower heads are so large and profuse the leaves are almost obscured by them, and a tree in bloom is, simply, spectacular. Following flowering this bush also sets masses of bright red berries, on red stalks, where every bloom was. Other varieties of this shrub set few if any berries, but this one is an abundant producer, with the branches often weighed down by their profusion. The berry display, close after blooming, is at least as dramatic as the flowering. The berries darken to burgundies and eventually blacks, before being taken by birds in fall.
This wonderful shrub is a striking specimen that deserves a high-profile place in your garden. Allow room when planting for it to spread at least 10 feet across, and don’t plant closer than 5 feet to walls, buildings, fences and other mature plants. It looks great in beds of larger shrubs, planted beneath trees, and out on a large lawn. It is very beautiful in the angles of walls and fences, and beside steps. Spend some time choosing a prime location for a plant so beautiful.
The Shasta Viburnum is hardy from zone 5, and even in sheltered spots in zone 4, where there could be some die-back in cold winters, but it is still worth a try. It is also hardy all the way into zone 8, growing well across a large part of the country.
Grow the Shasta Viburnum in full sun or in partial shade. In full sun in hotter zones the ground should not be too dry, and afternoon shade is probably better in hot-climate zones 7 and 8. This shrub is easy to grow in a wide range of soils, from acid to alkaline, and light soils, loams and clays. The soil should be well-drained, but otherwise this is not a difficult shrub to grow. Water regularly when young – mature plants have moderate drought resistance.
Generally free of pests of diseases, this shrub is very easy to grow, yet incredibly beautiful and worthwhile. Avoid trimming and allow it to grow naturally. Any very tall, vertical stems that grow up can be pruned back by about one-third to encourage lateral branches, but don’t cut side branches and never trim into a ‘neat ball’.
This shrub has an interesting and complex history. The story begins with a wild shrub that grows in China and Japan, called Viburnum plicatum. Wild plants have ‘lace-cap’ blooms, but forms with blooms more like mophead hydrangeas were being grown in Asian gardens. These were first described in 1712 by Engelbert Kaempfer, a German naturalist and explorer. The first plants were brought to Europe from China in 1846 by the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune. These were mophead plants, and today are called ‘variety tomentosum’. As well, between 1877 and 1879, Charles Maries, an English botanist and plant collector working for James Veitch & Sons of Chelsea, London, England, was collecting plants in China and he brought back a plant with very horizontal branches and flowers that were large, but more ‘lace-cap’. It was called ‘Mariesii’ and Veitch released it in 1902. It soon became very popular, and largely displaced the mophead types.
Jump to America, and one of our most prolific and successful shrub breeders, Dr. Donald Egolf, who began breeding at the National Arboretum in Washington DC in 1958. He brought with him some seedlings he had produced in 1954 while a graduate student at Cornell University. He picked out the best, with strong horizontal branching and large flowers, and grew them together in a plot. He let them interbreed and collected seed, so that in 1968 he was able to pick out a superb seedling that he named Shasta. Superior to the old ‘Mariesii’, and packed with berries, which the older plant never was, ‘Shasta’ is a wonderful improvement.
It is great to have found plants of this terrific shrub for you, and we can’t recommend it enough. Wherever you are, plant the Shasta’ Doublefile Viburnum and enjoy one of the best garden shrubs you can grow. Don’t hesitate, because they won’t be with us long.