‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum is the first new cultivar release from the Arboretum’s plant introduction program Arnold Selects in 2022. Its single central red flower is distinguishes it from all other members of the species and genus.
‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum was obtained as a result of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University’s plant conservation mission. Assistant plant propagator Rob Nicholson undertook several expeditions in the 1980s with the objective of ex situ conservation for the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), which began at the Arboretum in 1984. His travels led him to Tennessee and Georgia in October 1987, where scarce native populations of bracted viburnum (considered critically endangered) are present.
Nicholson discovered the ‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum parent plant growing in Franklin County, Tennessee during the Southeast States Expedition. Nicholson recalled that unfortunately no drupes were present, so he dug a division. It was cataloged upon receipt at the Arboretum, and ‘Crimson Gem’ was given the accession number of 1067-87. The plant was cared for at the Dana Greenhouses at the Arboretum, and then planted into the viburnum collection/greenhouse border in September 1992.
Almost two decades later, a technician from Erika Edwards’ Laboratory at Brown University (now of Yale University) conducting research in the Arboretum’s viburnum collection noticed something peculiar about the flower of this bracted viburnum and contacted ecology and evolutionary biology professor Michael Donoghue at Yale, a leading authority on the genus Viburnum. Donoghue recalls that he was in “total disbelief” upon learning about the flower, “drove up from Yale ASAP to see it,” and immediately made Keeper of the Living Collections Michael Dosmann aware of the jewel residing in the Arboretum’s living collections.
What was all the commotion about? The inflorescences have a vibrant red floret in the center, similar to the herbaceous biennial Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Spectacular white cymose inflorescences open in their entirety in late May to early June, enveloping the shrub, and revealing the magical middle ‘gem’. Upon further study, spring foliage was also found to be attractive—emerging leaves have an ephemeral reddish hue. Autumn brings bronze to maroon leaf color and clusters of shiny blue-black drupes.
‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum has stood the test of time with over 30 years in the Arboretum’s collections. It is only fitting that it be the first new cultivar released in 2022 under the Arboretum’s plant introductions program, Arnold Selects.
Viewing this plant in-person? Look for these defining characteristics:
About Our Collection
The jewel of ‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum was serendipitously spotted by a Brown University technician conducting research in the Arboretum’s collections.
Bracted viburnum is considered critically imperiled (G1) and is endangered in the wild due to quarrying and logging. Sparse wild populations of bracted viburnum still remain in the Southeastern United States.
Giving the plant its common name are the four persistent, bract-like stipules at each node and the two bracts below each inflorescence.
‘Crimson Gem’ bracted is a medium-sized shrub, growing 7 to 10 feet (2.1 to 3 meters) tall with a slightly wider spread. It has a dense, rounded habit.
This bracted viburnum was one of the last Arboretum plants to be cataloged in 1987. It was accessioned on December 24, 1987.
There are two ‘Crimson Gem’ bracted viburnum plants in the collection. In 2005, a division was harvested from the original ‘Crimson Gem’ to increase the Arboretum’s holdings of the species. The resulting clone was planted in the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.
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