Dozens of tiny blossoms crowd together to form showy clusters that appear in late winter or early spring depending on climate.
In warm climates the possumhaw is nearly evergreen and flowers bloom against a leafy background. In colder places the flowers appear just as the leaf buds are openning.
Possum-haw is a shrub or small tree getting 10-20 ft (3-6 m) tall, with an open, spreading, rounded crown. The leaves are glossy dark green, opposite and variable in size and shape, commonly 3-6 in (8-15 cm) long and elliptic to oblong in shape. Leaves are deciduous in the north and nearly evergreen in the southernmost parts of its range. They usually turn red or reddish purple before dropping in autumn. Flowers are creamy white, borne in slightly round topped cymes on new growth, along with the new leaves in spring. The individual flowers are tiny, but the clusters are 3-6 in (8-15 cm) across and very showy. Possum-haw flowers have a musty smell that reminds me of flour! The ellipsoid fruits go through interesting color changes, starting out pale yellow, then turning pink, and finally becoming a beautiful deep, waxy blue-black when mature. At certain times of the summer all colors can be found on the same plant. The drupes are about a quarter inch (7 mm) long, and bitter to the taste. There are a handful of named selections including 'Winterthur' which is superior to the species in many regards.
Location Viburnum nudum occurs in wet woods, swamps, bogs, floodplain forests, and along creeks over much of the eastern U.S. coastal plain from Connecticut and southern New York to northern Florida, and west to eastern Texas. It doesn't get above 3000 ft (914 m) in the mountains, but it does follow the Mississippi River valley up to southern Illinois. Possum-haw is usually an understory tree or shrub in mixed woods, rarely abundant. Viburnum cassinoides is considered conspecific with V. nudum by some authorities. It is a smaller shrub with non-bitter fruits and a more northern distribution to Manitoba and Nova Scotia and occurring also at high elevations in the Appalachians.
Culture Light: Possum-haw grows naturally in the forest understory but it produces more flowers and fruits when grown in full sun. Moisture: Possum-haw grows naturally in moist situations but once established in the landscape it tolerates mild droughts and usually needs no supplemental watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-9. Propagation: New softwood shoots (without the flower clusters) can be rooted in spring. Seeds can be sown in a cold frame outdoors in fall. They will take 1-2 years to germinate.
The possomhaw is a fine understory plant for beneath large trees and also makes a great choice as a specimen tree for smaller properties.
Possum-haw is a pretty little tree for a naturalistic setting in a woodland garden or as a specimen tree in the home landscape. With glossy green foliage most of the year, lovely creamy white flowers in spring, striking blue-black fruits in late summer, and reddish purple foliage in autumn, possum-haw is a shrub for all seasons. It has a nice symmetrical shape that needs no pruning. The abundant autumn fruits are relished by wild birds and small mammals. The flour smelling flowers are a sure conversation starter.
I love the native viburnums (there are 5 in Florida) and this may be my favorite, but I am known to be fickle, especially when rusty black-haw is blooming.
The unrelated holly, Ilex decidua, is also called possum-haw. Recently, some botanists have taken the viburnums and American elder out of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) and placed them in the obscure moschatel family (Adoxacea). Some botanists just can't leave well enough alone!