The White Flowers of Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
The White Flowers of Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Description & Uses

With the article Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses, the editorial team of "Kalliergeia" approaches for the first time the botanical genus Viburnum, which has given for use several ornamental – and not only – species.

Possessed by the novice ignorance of the risks, this team has the impression that it will be able to provide the plant lovers – and not only – all that information that will help them to get a deeper knowledge about this plant.

Because it is not only an ornamental species, but also a productive shrub of great value to some human communities, which live within its natural growth zone.

For this reason, the editorial team of "Kalliergia" immediately delivers to the reader the present painstaking work, to go down in full to its fully equipped underground research laboratory, where it will be engaged in the preparation of jam – and not only – from the fruits of Viburnum opulus.

The fruits of Viburnum opulus, in addition to their decorative value, are edible and are utilized by many traditional cuisines.

The Red Fruits of Viburnum opulus
The Red Fruits of Viburnum opulus
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Guelder Rose Origin

Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose) Map of Origin
Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose) Map of Origin

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Brief Description

Family: Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae)

Genus: Viburnum

Scientific Name: Viburnum opulus L.

Common Name: Cranberry Bush Viburnum, European Cranberry, European Cranberrybush Viburnum, Guelder-Rose, Guelder Rose

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence



Shrub or small tree



Growth Rate


Flowering Period

May – June

Fruiting Period

September – October


3-5 με 7 m (10-16 to 23 ft)


3-4 m (10-13 ft)

Shapes and Colours

Leaves Shape

Lobed – Ovoid

Foliage Colour


Autumn Foliage Colour

Yellow, Red

Flowers Shape

Bell-Shaped, Actinomorphic

Flowers Colour



Subspherical Red Drupe


Soil Type: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay

Exposure: Sun, Half-shade

Soil pH: 5.2-7.5

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: -40 °C (−40 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 3a)


Specimen, hedge, windbreak, parks, gardens, pots and containers

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

The White Globose Inflorescence of Popular Variety Viburnum opulus 'Roseum'
The White Globose Inflorescence of Popular Variety Viburnum opulus 'Roseum'

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

It is with great sorrow that, the editorial team of "Kalliergeia" has to announce its complete ignorance about the etymology of the word viburnum: it may come from the Latin vīburnum; it may be speculated that it comes from an Etruscan word; however, no one in the known universe to date can interpret the primary meaning of the unknown and supposedly derived from the Etruscan language word, to which and – with some degree of arbitrariness – the word viburnum is traced.

Etymology of the Species Name

For the name of the species opulus, things look clearer, since it comes from the Gaelic (Ancient Celtic) word *opolos, which means maple – giving quite accurately the shape of the leaves of the plant. The *opolos in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European word *ok̂u̯-olo-, which comes from the root *h₂eḱ-. The root *h₂eḱ- translates as sharp – from which comes the Ancient Greek word ἀκή, which is interpreted as point.

The godfather of the species was the French botanist Jean Ruel (1474-1537), who precisely named it Dioscourides Maple (Opulus of Dioscorides).

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Origin & Life Span


Viburnum opulus originates from a fairly large area of the Eurasian region, while its indigenous populations are also found in parts of Africa. Specifically, its cradle includes:

  • The European continent – excluding large parts of the Mediterranean, in the south, and large parts of the Nordic countries, in the north
  • Areas of Siberia
  • The Caucasus
  • Regions of Asia Minor
  • Parts of the countries of Central Asia
  • Areas of North Africa

Ecology - Habitat

The Guelder Rose grows in its native habitat in forests, on the edge of forests, in bushy and riparian areas, as well as around lakes and mires.

It is often found in peaty and wet soils as well as in moraines, less often in sandy deposits of former glaciers, while it is completely absent from coastal substrates.

In terms of altitude, its natural populations are located almost at sea level up to 1700 m in the Central Alps, and 2300 m in the Caucasus.


The plant sometimes escapes from the cultivation with the cooperation of frugivorous birds, because they eat its fruits and in this way contribute to its dispersal, since they eliminate the seeds. And if the seeds are found in the right environment, they germinate, growing unwanted plants – weeds.

The invasive nature of Viburnum opulus has caused problems in some parts of the northern United States as well as in Canada. There the plant lovers can choose between its decorative varieties, which are sterile.

Life Span

If it grows in the right conditions, the life expectancy of the plant reaches up to 50 years, to less suitable 25, and to a minimum suitable 9 years. Therefore, the secret of the longevity of the Viburnum opulus is in the right conditions – which is novelly scandalous.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Landscape Attributes

The Viburnum opulus is a tall deciduous shrub or rarely a small multi-trunk tree, which reaches 3 to 5 – 7 m in height, while 3 to 4 m in diameter.

The branches and twigs extend lateraly, and have nice lobate-shaped and green leaves, which in autumn take on attractive yellow and red hues.

It is of moderate growth rate (although sometimes its lateral shoots can grow by 30 to 40 cm per year), and assumes a spherical or vase – spherical shape.

Its canopy is dense, symmetrical, of normal outline, and can be characterized as coarse in texture.

It has white flowers that are placed on a large umbrella-shaped inflorescence, its flowering is observed in late spring and early summer, and lasts from 15 to 25 days.

Fruiting follows, with small subspherical red fruits, which remain on the plant during the winter.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

The Buds of a Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) Stem
The Buds of a Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) Stem

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Botanical Description


The root system of the Viburnum opulus consists of either a long taproot and many lateral roots or numerous major roots.

The primary and secondary roots are fleshy in texture and thicks or enlarged. They branch slightly (apart from fine lateral roots), and their diameter ranges from 10 to 25 mm.

The majority of the roots are located at a depth of 10 to 20 cm.


The bark is thin or thick, as well as corked or smooth. Its color is dark gray-brown.

Branches, Shoots and Buds

Last year’s branches are cylindrical, and have a yellowish or bronze-brown color. Their surface is smooth or pubescent, and they show scattered, small, spherical white lenticels.

The shoots of the year are reddish or more often greenish brown, with distinctly raised lenticels.

The buds are oval in shape often ending in a pointed tip. Their color is reddish-green, while they are surrounded by 2 smooth connate scales, while the inner ones are membranous. The base connate into a tube.


The leaves are lobed, with 3 to 5 lobes, have a orbicular-ovate to broadly ovate or obovate shape, and green color. They are large, with a length ranging between 5 and 15 cm, and a width ranging between 5 and 10 cm.

The surface of the leaves abaxial (lower surface) is with hairs, especially on the vines and axil of the vines, while adaxial (upper surface) is almost smooth, with the midrib slightly raised.

The middle lobe is often larger than the laterals, the laterals usually extending outwards, and all ending in sharp apex, with irregularly dentate margins. The base of the leaves is round, truncate, or slightly cordate, without glands.

The leaves are arranged on the shoots opposite, have 2 permanent stipules, and are found almost the entire length of the branches. They are attached to the shoots with a strong petiole, the color of which is green or reddish, has 2 to 4 and / or more glands towards the apex, and has a length of 1 to 5 cm.


The flowers are placed at the top of the flowering stem, on a terminal umbel-like botryoform corymb inflorescence and have diameter 4 to 12 cm. They are hermaphrodite, white in color and are distinguished into fertile and sterile.

The sterile flowers, which are larger, are arranged outside the inflorescence, on a rank, and the fertile ones inside (in the ornamental varieties the inflorescences bear only sterile flowers).

Fertile Flowers

The fertile flowers are epigynous, and have a bell-shaped corolla 4 to 5 mm in diameter, consisting of 5 petals. The calyx is green with an anticonical tube about 1 mm long and 5 triangular lobes about 0.6 mm long, ending in a smooth obtuse apex.

The stamens are 5, protruding prominently from the corolla and emerging from its base. The anthers about 1 mm long are white-yellow or purple, and are carried on filaments about 4 mm long. The style, which slightly exceeding from the calyx lobes, is short and the stigma is 2-lobed. The ovary is 3-celled (but only one cell is fertile) and inferior.

Sterile Flowers

The sterile actinomorphic flowers also have a 5-lobed rotate corolla, 1.3 to 2.5 cm in diameter, and a calyx similar to that of the fertile ones. They are carried on long pedicels, while they consist of wide oval-shaped unequal petals with rounded tops. Stamens and pistil are not developed.


The Viburnum opulus is pollinated by insects – it is an entomophilous plant. And despite the fact that its flowers are hermaphrodite (perfect), because it is cross-pollinated it needs at least two plants in order to be able to produce fruits.

Fruit & Seeds

The fruit is a fleshy subglobose drupe, with a rounded base and apex, 8 to 12 mm in diameter. Its color is initially yellow to gradually change – during maturation – to bright red.

The taste of the fruit during ripening is bittersweet, but over time and if light frosts prevail it becomes sweet.

Each fruit contains only one yellowish seed, which is flattened spherical, 6 to 8 mm in diameter and weighs about 10 to 12 grams.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Climate and Soil


The Guelder Rose is an extremely hardy plant, especially in terms of low temperatures, as it can easily withstand -34 to -40 °C (-29.2 / -40 °F). It also has no problems with either light or strong frosts.

At high temperatures, the reaction of the plant is satisfactory, since 35 to 38 °C (95-100 °F) do not affect it much. In areas with particularly hot summers, its planting in partial shade conditions sufficiently raises its temperature limit of tolerance (> 40 ° C / 104 °F).

Soil and pH

The plant adapts to a wide range of soils, including both sandy and loamy with clayey as well as calcareous. However, it performs better in moist, loamy soils, which are rich in organic matter and drain well.

As for the reaction of the soil, the soil pH, the plants growth is normal at those whose values range between 5.2 and 7.5, but its cultivation is favored in soils of slightly acidic reaction.


The Viburnum opulus is planted in full sun. It can of course be placed in semi-shady places – especially in areas with very hot summers – but there (as long as they are not ornamental varieties) it will lag behind in fruit production.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Pests & Diseases

The Guelder Rose, with the exception of aphids, will rarely encounter problems from pests and diseases. Of course, rarely does not means never, so some pests and diseases will not face any problems in order to create problems in the plant.


Immediately below are recorded the most important pests of Viburnum opulus.

Various Insects
  • Brachionycha nubeculosa
  • Phyllonorycter lantanella
  • Pyrrhalta viburni (Viburnum Leaf Beetle)
  • Sphinx ligustri
  • Tenthredo livida
  • Aphis fabae
  • Aphis viburni
  • Ceruraphis eriophori
  • Myzus persicae
  • Chionaspis salicis
  • Dynaspidiotus britanicus
  • Eriophyes viburni (Mite Gall)

By using the appropriate insecticides and acaricides the treatment is satisfactory.


After the pests, the recording of the diseases follows.

  • Ascochyta tenerrima (Ασκοχύτωση)
  • Ascochyta viburni
  • Phomopsis tinea (Φόμοψη)
  • Stigmina tinea
  • Pseudomonas syringae viburni (Leaf and Stem Spot)
  • AMV (Alfalfa Mosaic Virus)

By the use of appropriate fungicides the treatment of the fungi is from satisfactory to difficult, the plant’s bacteriosis is extremely difficult to manage, while for the viruses there is no therapy.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Toxicity & Allergenicity


Although edible, the fruits of Viburnum opulus are slightly toxic when consumed in large quantities or when they are not mature.

Their mild toxic effect is due to the substances viburnin (vasodilator – bitter agent) and saponin glycosides. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting or diarrhea.

However, the fruits can be consumed with great safety, if they are previously placed in the freezer.


There are no reports or indications that allergic reactions can be caused by the pollen of this entomophilous plant.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Varieties & Cultivars

A plant of great interest – more of course from an ornamental point of view and much less from an agricultural one – became the subject of breeding efforts, which led to the creation of several cultivars and varieties. Some of the most important ornamental ones are mentioned immediately below, while those that are of agricultural interest are discussed in the chapter on the agricultural use of the plant.

Ornamental Varieties

Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’

Viburnum opulus var. opulus ‘Compactum’ (Compact European Viburnum)

Extremely compact shrub with very dense foliage and spherical shape. It is smaller than the typical species, having a height ranging between 1.2 and 1.8 m (4-6 ft). Its leaves, 5 to 10 cm (1.9-3.9 in) long, have a deep green color, which turns pink and purple in autumn. The white flowers appear on umbrella-shaped inflorescences, to be followed by red fruits, which remain on the plant until winter.

Flowers of Viburnum opulus 'Compactum' Variety
Flowers of Viburnum opulus 'Compactum' Variety

Viburnum opulus ‘Nanum’

Viburnum opulus var. opulus ‘Nanum’ (Dwarf European Cranberry Bush Viburnum)

It is a dwarf, very small shrub, with a height ranging between 30 and 60 cm (11.8-23.6 in), which has a very dense and compact foliage, and a spherical shape. The color of the leaves, 2 to 4 cm (0.8-1.6 in) long, is green, turning greenish red in autumn. It lacks flowers – or they rarely appear – and therefore it is fruitless. The plant due to its dwarf growth is particularly suitable for planting in small pots, flower beds or small gardens.

Flowers of Viburnum opulus 'Nanum' Variety
Flowers of Viburnum opulus 'Nanum' Variety

Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’

Viburnum opulus var. opulus ‘Roseum’ (European Snowball Viburnum)

It is perhaps the most widespread variety of the plant due to its sterile flowers, and therefore its non-fruiting. Normally growing, it has a height ranging between 3.0 and 3.7 m (9.8-12 ft) and a diameter of 3.7 to 4.5 m (12-14.7 ft), its foliage is dense, its slightly arched shoots extend sideways, and its shape is vase-like. It has beautiful dark green leaves, which acquire reddish hues in autumn. Its sterile white flowers appear in spherical inflorescences 6.5 to 7.5 cm (2.5-3 in) in diameter, covering almost completely the plant. It is less tolerant to cold than the typical species, with a lower temperature limit of -34 °C (−30 °F). It is one of the oldest ornamental varieties of the plant, since it has been cultivated since the 16th century CE.

Flowers of Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ Variety
Flowers of Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ Variety

Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’

Viburnum opulus var. opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ (Yellow-fruited European Cranberrybush Viburnum)

Another interesting variety of the plant with characteristic golden yellow fruits. It has a height of 1.8 to 2.4 m (6-8 ft), dense foliage, and a hemispherical shape. The leaves are similar to the typical species, but their color is more light green, while in winter they become yellow or reddish. The white flowers appear on umbrella-shaped inflorescences, to be followed by the golden-yellow translucent fruits, which remain on the plant until winter. It is also less tolerant to cold than the typical species, with a lower temperature limit of -34 °C (−30 °F). This is also one of the oldest varieties of the plant, since it was first cultivated in Austria, in 1842 CE.

Fruits of Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' Variety
Fruits of Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' Variety

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses

A Viburnum opulus Shrub in Garden
A Viburnum opulus Shrub in Garden

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) - Use


In 1974, in the former USSR, the first attempt was made to introduce the species to agriculture as a fruit shrub. Its cultivation had spread to several areas from the Urals and the Caucasus to the Far East.

Today, plantations with Viburnum opulus still exist on the Solovetsky Islands, near the towns of Arkhangelsk, Kotlas, Solikamsk and Ussuri.

From the "Siberian Research Institute of Plant Cultivation and Breeding", various varieties of sweet fruits have been selected and grown, such as Souzga, Zarniza, Tajezhnije Rubini, Vigorovskaja and Shukshinsk.

Craft & Industrial

Wood is used in carpentry and the woodworking industry. It is also used to make skewer sticks, smoking pipe stems and shoe nails.

In Turkey, fruit juice (called Gilaburu) is available from the juice industry as a non-alcoholic beverage.


In its native habitat Viburnum opulus has been used ethnobotanically by many different peoples for practical, nutritional and therapeutic purposes – as we will show below.

Practical Use

A red pigment is extracted from the fresh fruit, while ink can be made from the dried fruit. The bark provides a black-green dye, with which they dye the wool.

Wood is used as fuel.

Nutritional Use

Although the taste of the fruits is astringent, bitter and sour, they are consumed raw or cooked. They are used to make sweets, jams and jellies, while they often replace cranberries in corresponding homemade preparations.

In Russia and Ukraine with the fruit they make a kind of pie called Kalinnikov – nothing to do with the Russian classical music composer Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov (1866-1901).

Various soft drinks and liqueurs are prepared from the fruit juices.

In Turkey, the Gilaburu drink is traditionally made in the Kayseri region – which, as mentioned above, is now commercially available.

The process followed for its preparation includes the placement of the fruits together with tap water in barrels, which are left for 3 to 4 months in a dark place at room temperature, in order for fermentation to take place and through it to eliminate their astringent, bitter and sour taste.

Therapeutic Use

The decoction of the bark of Viburnum opulus is used to treat bleeding in the stomach or uterus. It is also given as a painkiller to relieve pain caused by cramps, which occur during menstruation.

In general, the decoction of the bark is used to relieve pain from any type of uterine spasm, as it contains the substance coumarin (scopoletin), which has a calming effect on smooth muscle fibers.

The bark is also used to treat asthma and renal colic.

Apart from the bark, the fruits through Gilaburu juice produce healing effects, as the juice is traditionally used in Turkey to treat various diseases such as colds, coughs, tuberculosis, rheumatic pains, ulcers, liver disease, diabetes and hypertension.


The plant, and especially the bark, contains a number of active substances in addition to viburnin, saponins and coumarin, such as valeric acid and other isovaleric and citric acid derivatives, terpenoids, tannins, salicylic acid, fats, sterols.

Various published laboratory (in vitro) studies and researches have effectively highlighted the medicinal properties of Viburnum opulus with action:

  • Antimicrobial
  • Antidiabetic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticancer
  • Against obesity

Studies and research in animals have shown the positive effect of plant substances on the urinary system, as well as their vasodilating effect.

Ornamental Use in Garden and Landscape

The Guelder Rose, either as a typical species or through its interesting ornamental varieties – and especially the sterile ones – is utilized by gardening as well as by landscape architecture.

In particular it can be used:

  • As a potted plant, in gardens, courtyards and balconies
  • Individually, as a plant of special beauty
  • In groups or in mass plantings in gardens, parks, urban squares, where it has proven resistance to air pollution
  • For the creation of hedges and windbreaks
  • Combined with other ornamental plants such as Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo), Weigela (Weigela florida), Periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)


The References to this article which proudly bear the snowy title Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – Description & Uses are presented by the Tuvan ensemble named Alash from Southern Siberia with their song Kosh-oi and Torgalyg.

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