Mariesii Doublefile Viburnum Shrubs

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

Doublefile viburnum with its flowers lining up double-file along a branch.
David Beaulieu

Doublefile viburnums are shrubs that bloom in late spring. If you need a large plant that flowers impressively at that time of year to fulfill the goals you have for sequence of bloom in the garden, then learn how to grow these popular bushes.

Taxonomy and Botany of Mariesii Doublefile Viburnum Shrubs

Plant taxonomy considers Mariesii doublefile viburnum to be Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum Mariesii. The word in the botanical name not in italics 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.

Description 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.

Mariesii is a fast-growing shrub. At maturity, this multi-stemmed shrub can attain a height of 10 to 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 Needs for Mariesii Doublefile Viburnum

The species plant is indigenous to the Far East. Mariesii doublefile viburnum can be grown most easily in planting zones 5 to 8.

These bushes grow best in full sun to partial shade. Although they are clay-tolerant, they grow better in well-drained ground. Since they want a somewhat acidic soil, potentially good companion plants are some of the other acid-loving plants. Keep the ground evenly moist and amend the soil with compost.

Uses in Landscaping, Wildlife Attracted

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 members 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: 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 your 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 bear a lot of flowers, but they also have an interesting flowering pattern. 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.

Other Kinds of Viburnum:

  • Witherod viburnum (V. cassinoides): This North American native for zones 3 to 8 reaches 5 to 12 feet in height and width at maturity. Flat-topped clusters of small, white, bad-smelling flowers appear in June in a zone-5 yard. Fall foliage ranges from orange to red to purple. The edible berries start out green but eventually proceed through shades of red and blue to a color that is almost black in fall (each berry cluster can contain multiple colors at the same time). The berries persist to provide winter interest. Grow it in full sun to partial shade.
  • Golden wayfaringtree viburnum (V. lantana Aureum): Grow it in zones 3 to 7. Its mature dimensions are 8 feet x 8 feet. The flowers and the berries are similar to those on V. cassinoides, but what distinguishes this bush is the foliage color. The new leaves sport an unusual golden-yellow color that will eventually fade to green unless the plant is grown in the shade. Fall color is also yellow.

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 you of folds. The subspecies or variety name, tomentosum, gives us the little-used English word "tomentose," which means "downy" (covered in little hairs). The reference is to the small hairs on the young stems. Finally, the cultivar name, Mariesii, comes from a man's name: Charles Maries, a 19th-century British plant collector.