blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium)
plum leaf viburnum
Viburnum bushii Ashe
Viburnum prunifolium L. var. bushii (Ashe) Palmer & Steyerm.
Viburnum prunifolium L. var. globosum Nash ex Schneid.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of blackhaw is
Viburnum prunifolium L. There are no recognized varieties or subspecies.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERTICS: Blackhaw is a slow
growing medium-sized deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to
15 - 20 feet tall by 10 - 15 feet wide with a short crooked trunk and stout,
stiff, spreading and arching branches. Branches often have numerous short
shoots that are opposite and right-angled, resembling a fish skeleton. In
the northern parts of its range, it is a shrub, becoming a small tree in the
southern parts of its range. It has an upright oval growth habit in youth,
becoming upright and rounded with age. Blackhaw is often multi-trunked
as a shrub, with bark that is brown-gray, smooth while young, but break-
ing up into small square plates similar to alligator hide. Older stems may
be very rough. Bark color can range from gray-black to reddish-brown as
it matures. Twigs are smooth, gray, and relatively thin, having a repeated
branching pattern that gives them a very dense twigginess. The branchlets
are red at first, then green, finally dark brown tinged with red. Leaf buds
are valvate, narrowly ovate, pinkish brown, and leathery looking; flower
buds similar but swollen, appearing to have swallowed a BB. The deciduous
simple leaves of blackhaw are medium to dark green, elliptical, sparsely and
finely serrated (appearing entire at first glance), with a concave reddish
petiole that is is widened (subtlely winged) but has smooth (non-warty
and non-undulating) margins. The leaves are pinnately veined and often
have reddish leaf edges. The leaves tend to be dark green above and paler
below. Blackhaw leaves have an opposite arrangement. They are from 1.5
to 3 inches long and up to 2 inches wide. Fall color is variable from dark
green, burgundy, red, orange, yellow, or purple, and often a mixture there-
of, and can be quite showy, especially when the shrub is sited in full sun.
The leaves are superficially similar to some species of Prunus (thus
"prunifolium"); they come out of the bud involute, shining, green, tinged
with red, sometimes smooth, or clothed with rusty tomentum; when full
grown dark green and smooth above, pale, smooth or tomentose beneath.
Blackhaw is easily confused with Viburnum lentago, while it also shares
many morphological features in common with Viburnum cassinoides
(witherod viburnum, noted for its consistent pink and blue autumn fruits)
and Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw viburnum, noted for its super-
glossy dark green summer foliage that explodes into vibrant scarlet or
bright yellow hues in autumn). The showy, attractive flowers of blackhaw
are small and creamy-white; individual flowers are about 0.25 inches
across. Individual flowers are arranged in flat-topped inflorescences to an
average of 2.5" in diameter (maximum of 4 inches). Blackhaw flowers gen-
erally bloom in early May for about two weeks. The fruit is a drupe 1/4
inch long, a mixture of green, yellow, and red-pink that transitions to blue-
black or blue-pink at maturity. When ripe, the fruit is dark blue-black with
glaucous bloom. The fruit is situated in upright to pendulous clusters. It will
hang until winter, becoming like shriveled raisins, then becomes edible after
being frosted, at which time it is eaten by birds. The stone is flat and even,
broadly oval. The fruit can be profusely borne from August through early
December and is considered attractive.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Blackhaw primarily reproduces by
seeds, but also produces suckers.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Blackhaw is commonly found on rocky
stream banks, hillsides, along the base or edges of bluffs, along the margins
of forests, or in rocky glades or thickets, and in clearings. It grows best
with full to partial sun, but can survive in full shade. It is adaptable to a
variety of soils including poor soils, compacted soils, soils of various pH,
permanently moist soils, and dry soils. It tolerates moderate heat, drought,
and pollution. In general, however, black haw prefers sunny woodland with
well-drained soil and adequate water.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Due to its ability to adapt to a variety of
light and soil conditions, blackhaw can be found in all successional stages.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Blackhaw produces flowers from April
to May, and fruits ripen in August and September.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Blackhaw is a common tree species
whose native range extends from the mid-Atlantic states south to
Georgia and west to Missouri. It is most common in the upper mid-
west states, Ohio River valley, and eastern states up to southern New
York. Its native range does not extend into New England. Although
locally common in parts of South Carolina and Georgia, blackhaw
appears in smaller, more disjunct locations in Kentucky and Tennessee,
while it is rare to non-existent in the Gulf Region states.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Blackhaw is often
found in native sites in the Eastern and Midwestern United States as a
forest understory shrub, where it grows in deep shade (where it has few,
if any, inflorescences). Plants often found with blackhaw include American
elm, white pine, pitch pine, sweet gum, dogwood, and hawthorns.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Blackhaw viburnum is a very dense shrub
that is ideal as a wildlife refuge, as a non-thorny barrier hedge, or in a
naturalized group planting. It can also be used as an informal hedge (can
be planted densely for a barrier thicket that branches and suckers from
the ground-up), deciduous screen, border, large foundation, woodland edge,
embankment, or naturalizing shrub for group or mass plantings. It is urban
tolerant and, because of its showy creamy inflorescences in spring and
showy red-black berries in autumn, it is often used as an ornamental.
Native Americans used a decoction of black haw to treat gynecological
conditions, including menstrual cramps, aiding recovery after childbirth,
and in treating the effects of menopause. As a folk remedy, black haw has
been used to treat menstrual pain, and morning sickness. Due to its
antispasmodic properties, the plant may also be of use in treating cramps
of the digestive tract or the bile ducts. The bark is the part of the plant
used in treatments. Black haw was used by the Cherokee as an anti-
convulsive, to reduce fever, and for sore tongues. Roots were made
into a tea used by the Catawaba Indians of the east coast to treat stomach
Black haw's primary use was to prevent miscarriages. American
slaveholders also used the plant to prevent abortions. Slaves were a
valuable asset, and their owner also owned their offspring, so ensuring
that female slaves gave birth was of paramount importance. In defiance,
some slave women would attempt to use cotton seeds to cause a mis-
carriage. The slaveowners would therefore force pregnant slaves to
drink an infusion of black haw to prevent that.
The primary use of black haw today is to prevent menstrual cramps while
it is occassionally used for pain relief.
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