Hobblebush

May 3, 2022

We tramped for miles on a wooded walk

Where dog-hobble grew on its twisted stalk

            -Dana Gioia

Recently, while entering the higher end of Sumac Path heading down towards Consecration Dell there were several plants of Hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides,just opening their spring flowers. These visually distinct blossoms are arranged in 4 to 6-inch-wide, circular, composite, corymbs (flat-topped flowers). Rendered showy by an outer ring of white flowers, each 1-1 ½-inch, with 5-parted bracts, these all are sterile. Their center is composed of numerous small, true reproductive flowers, of an off-white shade.

green leaves of hobblebush with flowers

When successfully fertilized these diminutive, central flowers will produce in late-August/September, berry-like drupes, 1/2-inch long, tipped with a brown dot. Beginning as brilliant red these fruits change to nearly black at maturity. These fruits are eaten by cedar waxwing, cardinal, robin, red-eyed vireo, hermit thrush, great crested flycatcher, redpoll, turkey, among others. Seeds within these fruits are eaten by chipmunk, gray squirrel, mice, skunk and red fox.

The leaves are 4 to 8-inches-long, cordate shaped with finely-toothed margins and are distinctly veined. Notable is the early changing leaf color. Even in mid to late summer occur splotches of red or purple, which hint at the eventual bold, even polychromatic autumn foliage. These shrubs are native to cool, woodlands from Nova Scotia to Minnesota, south to Pennsylvania and New York and in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

green leaves of hobblebush

Many of us have experienced moments, even at an unexpected location within Mount Auburn, which may conjure personal memories across time and even geography. Seeing these Hobblebush vicariously transported me to New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) where Hobblebush lines scores of trails at lower elevations. This perceptional comparison with trails within WMNF is but one example of subjective observational details from decades of successful efforts by Mount Auburn’s horticultural planning, planting and oversight of a comprehensive habitat restoration project, recalling our original 1830’s rural landscape.

red and green leaves

One aspect guiding planning/management of our historic landscape is the designation of differing “landscape character zones”. Zones defined and managed with nuanced differences are the Naturalistic Parkland, Parkland, Victorian, Special Garden Area and Rural Cemetery, to cite several examples. The Rural Cemetery, encompassing four acres of Consecration Dell and its steep surrounding slopes, currently and into the future is primarily defined as an area consisting of native woodland plants. Herein an over-simplification of ongoing goals/efforts include improving and expanding native plant diversity and offering increased benefits for pollinators, birds and wildlife habitat.

green leaves and red fruit

On a future visit to Mount Auburn we encourage you to experience the varied topography of our “rural cemetery” that supports many different species of wildlife that visit or inhabit this site.      

The woodland borders are wreathed with bloom – elder, viburnum, rose;

The young trees yearn on the breast of the wind that sighs of love as it goes

-Schuyler Van Rensselaer

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

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