'Mariesii' Doublefile Viburnum Shrubs

Learn of Their Problems, When to Prune Them, Etc.

Doublefile viburnum (image) gets its name from the flowers lining up double-file along branch.
Doublefile viburnum derives its name from the way its flowers line up double-file along its branches. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Mariesii Doublefile Viburnum Shrubs

Plant taxonomy considers Mariesii doublefile viburnum to be Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Mariesii.' As always, the word in single quotes is the cultivar name.

Doublefile viburnum is a deciduous shrub. The bush belongs to the rather exclusive Adoxaceae family (which only four other genera call home). Viburnum is the most widely planted genus in the group in North America; elderberry (Sambucus) is also well known to gardeners, but more as a wild plant.

Characteristics of Mariesii, How It Differs From Japanese Snowball Bush

Mariesii has white flowers that assume the "lacecap" appearance with which we are most familiar when discussing certain types of hydrangeas (with sterile-but-attractive blossoms ringing a center of fertile-but-insignificant flowers). The shrub blooms during the month of May in a zone-5 landscape, for example, as does its relative, the "snowball bush." Flowers are succeeded by berries (see below under Outstanding Features).

Mariesii is a fast-growing shrub. At maturity, this multi-stemmed shrub can attain a height of 10-12 feet with a somewhat greater spread. The leaves on the branches line up precisely opposite from each other to form a neat pattern of pairs. The spring flowers on each branch, likewise, compose two even rows, one on either side of the branch. As a result, an impression of flatness or horizontality is created.

The deep, well-defined veining on the leaves gives them some character even during the spring and summer. But as with Korean spice viburnum, in fall the foliage can truly come into its own if conditions are right (this will not happen every year), changing to a reddish or purplish color.

A relative of the doublefile viburnum is termed, in common lingo, "Japanese snowball bush." But that common name refers to the species plant, Viburnum plicatum (without the "var. tomentosum," which indicates a variety or subspecies) and to such cultivars as 'Kern's Pink' and 'Leach's Compacta' (which bear light pink and white "snowball" blooms, respectively).

By contrast, Mariesii doublefile viburnum flowers, with their flat appearance, look nothing whatsoever like snowballs.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements for Mariesii Doublefile Viburnum

The species plant is indigenous to the Far East. It is just one of many plants from China and Japan that are now stalwarts in Western landscaping. Mariesii doublefile viburnum can be grown most easily in planting zones 5-8.

These bushes grow best in full sun to partial shade. Although they are clay-tolerant, they grow better in well-drained ground with somewhat acidic soil. Amend the soil with compost and keep the ground evenly moist.

Uses in Landscaping, Wildlife It Attracts

Use doublefile viburnums in loose hedges to create living privacy fences. Because they offer visual interest for more than one season of the year, some consider these bushes showy enough for use as specimen plants. Their white flowers make them useful constituents of moon gardens. Another possible use would be at the edge of a woodland garden where they can receive at least partial sunshine (arrowwood viburnum would work well in such a spot, too).

Doublefile viburnums are plants that attract butterflies, and because of their berries they are also shrubs that attract birds.

Care (Pruning), Problems for Doublefile Viburnum

Some like to prune their Mariesii plants to define their shape a bit. Others -- unaware at purchase time of the fast growth rate of these bushes and how big they can get -- decide to prune in order to keep the shrub more compact. If you do decide pruning is desirable, prune just after flowering, since the bush blooms on old wood. Better yet, those who have done their homework before buying will select a spacious location for their Mariesii doublefile viburnum, where it will be free to assume its most appealing form: namely, its natural shape.

Although the Mariesii cultivar is relatively pest-resistant, pest problems for the genus, generally speaking, include viburnum leaf beetles (Pyrrhalta viburni) and aphids. Spray neem oil on the plant to kill any aphids as soon as you spot them.

The leaf beetles are a more serious problem. Control measures should target the larvae, not the adults. The University of Florida Extension suggests biological control, recommending, specifically, "Predaceous insects like the larvae and adults of multicolored Asian lady beetle, larvae of lacewings, and spined soldier bugs...."

Outstanding Features

The flowers that are fertile can yield berries (technically, drupes) in summer. Both the berries and the twigs that hold them are a bright red. Some find the berries more attractive at this stage than later on, when their color changes to black. Some summers, the berries on a Mariesii bush will shrivel up and drop off shortly after they turn black, thanks to hot, dry weather. In cases where the berries persist, they draw birds to one's landscaping.

While the berries and the fall foliage of these doublefile viburnums are both nice, most gardeners rate the flowers as their best feature. Not only do they flower in profusion, but they also exhibit an interesting flowering pattern (as described both above and below). With beautiful and numerous flowers in spring, berries in summer, and good foliage color in fall, this is truly a plant with multi-season interest.

Interesting Facts: Origin of the Names

The common name, "doublefile" refers to the fact that the flowers line up double-file (that is, in two straight lines) along the branches.

In terms of the scientific name of the plant, let's begin with the species name, plicatum. It comes from a Latin word meaning "folded" and refers to the deep veins in the leaves, which remind one of folds. The subspecies or variety name, tomentosum gives us the little-used English word "tomentose," which means "downy" (that is, covered in little hairs). The reference is to the small hairs on the young stems. Finally, the cultivar name, 'Mariesii' derives from a man's name: Charles Maries, a 19th-century British plant collector.

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