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Hobblebush Burning

October 10, 2013  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  10 comments  | 

A full season of fall foliage erupts from the leaf of a single plant. Find your fireworks on Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).

This understory gem may be the perfect shrub. It offers food and habitat diversity for nesting birds and other wildlife, and its blooms play a crafty game of deception each spring. Oh, it’s also on fire right now.


In spring, Hobblebush’s white flowers, arranged in clusters along a branch, are rather puny and inelegant. So the plant surrounds each cluster with a ring of larger, showier paper-white blooms. These flowers are infertile impostors; they do not produce fruits, but look good enough to attract insect pollinators toward the genuine flowers, which go on to produce bursts of apple-red fruits.

But in autumn the plant’s leaves offer a spectrum of foliage. Here below is proof: the leaves in this montage below I photographed on October 13, 2019, during a 10-mile hike in the Noyes Pond Basin in Vermont’s Groton State Forest. (These are iPhone shots on the fly compiled into a montage in PhotoShop.)

Or scroll through this iNaturalist display of Hobblebush sightings during the month of October from Maine to the Carolinas. (Here’s one of my favorites, from Sue Elliot in Vermont, who also photographed this one a day later.)

Better yet, go climb a mountain to claim your season of fall foliage — there at your feet.

  1. George DeWolf says:

    Love the collage photo Brian. Pulling all these different leaves together in one place makes me appreciate this understory shrub even more. As a trail adopter for the Forest Service I have to, now and again, tame it, but I’d feel a loneliness as I walk the forest, without its presence.

  2. Cindy says:

    Hobblebush is one of my favorite Monhegan plants – in fact I picked it to present in my native plants identification course (through Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens)…turns out it was one of the instructor’s favorites too – he was bemoaning the fact that since he moved from
    Maine to Mass. he doesn’t get to see it in the wild anymore . I m hoping to see it in bloom next year… Right now just enjoying its fall colors!

  3. Pat Mainer says:

    This fall, I seem to be noticing a dearth of the buds that turn into flowers in the spring. There are plenty of the buds that are like just two “ears” that turn into leaves. But I’ve seen very few of the buds that in addition to the “ears” have a little face. Those are the ones that bloom. Is this drought/dryness related or just bad luck on my part? I love to cut a few of those with faces in February or March and bring them inside to force the flowers. It’s so common and I cut so little, I don’t feel guilty at all.

  4. Brian Aust says:

    I love how they start to get tinged with purple right around the passage of summer’s apex. They mark the tipping point of the season, like the first cicadas and Soldidago species, but then hold their leaves until near the end of autumn.

  5. Leda Beth Gray says:

    Love this, thanks for posting! The Gillian Welsh was great, photos wonderful. I was thinking I better get this for our yard but it sounds like it wants high up in the mountains(?) Go Redwings and Tigers!!

  6. Beautiful, I Love Monheagan!

  7. Charlotte Hewson says:

    One of my very favorite plants. Years ago I did a slide show on the Hobble Bush’s many faces. Gorgeous display. Charlie

  8. mitymous says:

    I love the moosewood, and was admiring their the extravaganza yesterday.

  9. Linda Wurm says:

    My all time favorite forest shrub! So yellow rumps are here in MAine in serious number and I recognize them. We also had aflock of sand hill cranes spend the night in the marsh, Thought for sure some duck hunter had a very strange call to lure some ducks. Then we saw them land with their “friends”. Awesome moment.
    We had a wonderful time on Monhegan!

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