Korean Spice Viburnum –Viburnum carlesii – Discover a fabulous shrub for spring fragrance

By Ethan Johnson, Plant Records Curator

While many species of viburnum exist, none are more sweetly scented than Viburnum carlesii, the Korean spice viburnum. This slow growing, rounded delight, grows about 8 feet tall with a spread of up to 11 feet. Flowering lasts about two weeks, starting as early as April 11, with the start of bloom as late as May 2 at CBG, and as early as April 17, or as late as May 8.

Viburnum carlesii is found growing the north edge of the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Rose Garden, the southeast corner of the Western Reserve Herb Society’s Herb Garden, and at the Arboretum in the Display Garden both north by the lily pool, south of Lotus Pond, and at Lantern Court east of the entry drive north of the rhododendrons.

Selections of Viburnum carlesii in our gardens include, ‘Compactum’, 6 feet tall by 11 feet wide, found east of the tree house in the Hershey Children’s Garden at CBG and 3 plants on the south side of the Display Garden at the Arboretum, about 5 feet in height. ‘Aurora’, found on the south side of the Display Garden at the arboretum has pink flower buds that open white and has grown to about 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. ‘Arlene’, named after Arlene Holden, is adjacent to the upper arbor in the Arlene and Arthur S. Holden, Jr. Butterfly Garden measures 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide.

The fall of 2019 was a good one for fall foliage at HF&G with Korean spice viburnum in peak color (burgundy) in early November at the Arboretum and in late November at the Botanical Garden. The close proximity to Lake Erie combined with the urban heat island effect at the Botanical Garden likely causes a two week delay of fall foliage but just a one week head start of flowering. Years where hard frost comes early cuts short the fall foliar display.

Viburnum carlesii produces fleshy fruit but they are sparsely borne, and seemingly not favored by birds. Korean spice viburnum has yet to seed in to our gardens or natural areas after over 60 years of cultivation.

In the landscape, Viburnum carlesii is appropriate for mixed borders or foundation plantings as a specimen or en masse. Other fragrant shrubs that make good companions include lilacs, roses and daphne.

PLANT Profile
Light: Sun to part shade
Soil type: Moist, acid
to neutral pH
Mature size: 5-8 feet tall by 8-11 feet wide
Best location: USDA Zones 5b(6a)-9a
Source: Select local garden centers, or via a landscaper