Giant Mystery Tree…Part III

The jury is in, this tree is definitely a Viburnum. On top of that, the original identification of “Black Haw” continues to ring true! Viburnum prunifolium.
Why is this exciting? Well, jeez. For a viburnum it is absolutely huge (with preliminary measurements pushing it above the national record!). Furthermore, this is a cool demonstration of how free-play in the outdoors under the guidance of someone that knows a bit about plants can lead to fascinating discoveries. A Blue Ridge Discovery Center exploration just might have lead to a state and national record tree…we shall see! I’m real happy the kids were given the freedom to discover this locality. I’m glad these free roamers were aloud to run ahead and I’m glad they found an interesting clump of old trees to play “fort” in!

The following is a short description of the detail that distinguishes our Black Haw (V. prunifolium) from other species of Viburnum:

Example #1: looking at “A Field Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of the Southern Appalachians” by Robert Swanson (thanks Ruth D. for forwarding this info)

Within the viburnum section one eventually gets to the following distinguishing attributes for V. prunifolium (Smooth Black-Haw):

  • The leaves are finely toothed to entire, the lateral veins merging into a fine pattern of veinlets before reaching leaf margin.
  • The margins of leaves are distinctly and regularly toothed, the teeth pointing forward (toward leaf tip.
  • The leaves are thin, their upper surface dull green; petioles not rusty-wooly and without broad, wavy margin.

Example #2: According to the “Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, northern Florida, and surrounding areas” there are “about 150 species of Viburnum shrubs and small trees, largely temperate, and primarily in Asia and North America.” In this publication they have listed 28 species growing in the above defined geographic region. Working through the key for these 28 species, the Giant Mystery Tree has the following attributes:

  • Leaves are unlobed and pinnately veined.
  • Lateral veins are curving and branching repeatedly through most of their length, not noticeably parallel, the lateral veins becoming obscure in the general pattern of anastamosing veins and not obviously leading to marginal teeth
  • Leaves serrulate, the teeth > 5 per cm of margin.
  • Leaves acute, obtuse, or rounded (rarely somewhat acuminate) at the tip
  • Leaves herbaeous in texture, dull above; petioles and veins (lower surface) glabrous or slightly brown-scurfy;[widespread in our area, usually in bottomland or other mesic forests]

These attributes distinguish V. prunifolium from the other species. So again, this key points to Black-haw, Viburnum prunifolium.


Part II of this “Giant Mystery Tree” series had lots of detailed photographs, and the story has been zipping around the state to various tree officials. Everyone supports the notion that this tree is Viburnum prunifolium. With the confirmation of this many expert voices, I think it is time for the discovery crew to revisit, take some measurements, and send in nomination forms for this tree.
Several people have asked to visit the tree, and I think we’ll get to that real soon. Thanks for all your input and interest! Keep those fingers crossed, Albemarle Co. might have a champion on its hands!

3 thoughts on “Giant Mystery Tree…Part III

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have already looked at the photos and from those it looks like blackhaw; however, there are several closely related species such as V. rufidulum which would require a closer inspection.
    -John S.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I at first thought this was a blackhaw (V. prunifolium) but have never encountered one so big! That completely through me – but now I am positive that is what it is. Fran Devin you are too much fun! Thanks so much for exploring for all of us.

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