Native Viburnums and Cross-Pollination – What the Nursery Isn’t Telling You

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry)

Native Viburnums and Cross-Pollination – What the Nursery Isn’t Telling You

Ever wonder why those terrific native viburnums you planted are not producing fruit?  You are not alone.  It’s one of the frustrations of gardening ecologically in a world where “cross pollination” is rarely mentioned at local nurseries or garden centers (and forget about the big box stores!).  Some plants, although deemed self-fruitful, may need a “pollinator partner” to bear fruit reliably.

Most native viburnums are actually pretty self-incompatible and typically require cross-pollination for good fruit production. Two genetically different plants of the same species should be planted in reasonably close proximity.  And, those genetically different plants must be in bloom at the same time so that visiting insect pollinators can do their job.

Unfortunately, nurseries and garden centers rarely explain this (or may not even know this) and may tell you to simply buy two of the same viburnums they have on hand (which may turn out to be genetically identical).  Later, you wonder why the plants don’t bear fruit – a great disappointment if you want to provide fruit for birds and other wildlife, and in the case of some viburnums, like Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), fruit that you can eat.

How can you solve this problem?

  • Plan A:  Buy two or more straight species viburnums (of the same species) that have been grown from seed – these will be genetically diverse.  In contrast, plants that have been propagated from cuttings will be genetic clones.  Unless the nursery has grown the plants themselves, they may not know whether the plants have been grown from seed or from cuttings.
  • Plan B:  If you cannot find viburnums grown from seed, purchase two or more straight species viburnums (of the same species) from different nurseries that source plants from different growers.
  • Plan C:  Purchase different cultivars of the same species of viburnum.  In the case of Viburnum dentatum, it is a bit more complicated – you must choose cultivars that are known to be compatible and bloom at the same time.  For example, Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’ is  compatible with Viburnum dentatum ‘Little Joe.’
  • Plan D:  Purchase a cultivar and a straight species viburnum, of the same species, which are in bud or bloom at the same time.

Ask your local nursery or garden center to help you and local wildlife, by selling “paired plants” for those species needing cross-pollination, including our beautiful native viburnums.

Happy gardening from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Fruit of Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
Photo credit: Flickr_Andrey Zharkikh

Posted in

More from EcoBlog

It’s National Pollinator Week: Thank a Bee, and a Fly, and Even A Beetle

In 2006 the United States Senate designated the first National Pollinator Week as a way to recognize the importance of pollinators to agriculture and ecosystem health.  Sure, beekeepers and avid gardeners celebrate this week, but the average American is hard pressed to name even a single pollinator beyond a honey…

Read More

Remembering a Great Naturalist: A Toast to Carol Gracie

This past fall we lost one of the great naturalists of the Northeast, Carol Gracie.  Carol was not just a naturalist, but a botanist, photographer, lecturer, and author of four fantastic books:  Summer Wildflowers of the Northeast, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast, Florapedia, and Wildflowers in the Field and Forest:…

Read More

Why Locally-Sourced, Locally-Grown Native Plants Matter

Have you visited your local farmer’s market lately or picked up your weekly allotment at a CSA?   If you are a locavore, like so many of us, you might be asking some pretty specific questions of your suppliers when you are vetting your food choices, such as: Where was this…

Read More