The Guelder rose. Viburnum opulus

The Guelder  rose is also known by several alternative names which include Water elder, European cranberry bush, Cramp bark, Red elder, Snowball tree, Rose elder, Whitsun bosses and Gaitre berries. This is a good example of why plants are given  a Scientific or Latin name. Those mentioned above are the names the Guelder rose has acquired in various parts of the country, however, it has only one Latin name recognised throughout the world, thus if one botanist is talking to another botanist on the other side of the world and the subject is Viburnum opulus, both would know they were talking about this specific species.

Viburnum is a genus of about 150-170 species of shrubs in the Moschatel family Adoxaceae, it was formerly placed in the family Caprifoliaceae, in many books this is still the case.

They are native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with a few species extending into tropical montane regions in south America and south east Asia . It is naturalised in north America  where it has been misleadingly renamed the European Cranberry bush {it is not even related to the true cranberries.}

Description of the Gueldder rose.

This shrub/small tree can attain the height of up to 5 m and is commonly planted in parks and gardens for its amazing white flowers and bright red autumninal berries.These berries remain on the tree, sometimes throughout the coldest of months. Some people thought the tree had the same growth habit of the common elder hence some of the plants alternative names, such as red elder and water elder.

The foliage of the tree is somewhat maple-like with three lobes {sometimes five } and are borne on stalks. Where the stalk meets the twig there are two small appendages. 

Foliage of the Guelder rose


Flower heads of the Guelder rose

The white flower heads are produced in abundance in May and June and they are up to 20cm wide  making for an impressive sight. The flower head is composed of many individual flowers of a snow white colour. The smaller inner flowers are surrounded by an outer ring of larger showy flowers. However, these outer flowers are sterile and produce no pollen and their main function is to attract insects which will then find the smaller complete flowers in the center of the head.

The flowers are succeeded by hanging clusters of berries, green at first turning bright red and somewhat translucent when ripe, each containing a single seed. Along with the fruits of the rowan and hawthorn they transform the countryside with a cloak of crimson during the autumn. 

New flower head  of the Guelder rose


Cultivated varieties

There are many cultivated species of Viburnum opulus, many produce flowers and berries worthy of admiration. However, it is my humble opinion that none can compete with the overall beauty of the wild Guelder rose, whether it is displaying its plethora of blooms or its magnificent drooping sprays of fruit.


Guelder rose and herbal medicine.

The bark known as cramp bark is utilized in herbal medicine  and was once employed against nervous complaints and cramps and spasms of all kinds, convulsions, fits and lockjaw. Heart disease and rheumatism was also treated by the species.

In modern day medicine, the bark is used against backache and cramp and painful periods among others. It is recommended that the bark is harvested in spring by stripping it from pruned branches and not the living tree.

The bark is dried and used in decoctions to relieve the pain of bowel spasms. For period pains a tincture is made from the fresh bark.

A liniment was produced from the bark to alleviate muscle cramps and tensions it was massaged into the affected area. The liniment was produced by mixing a chamomile infused oil, cramp bark tincture  and Valerian tincture. 

Guelder rose autumn foliage


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