A deciduous shrub up to 10 or 12 ft, branchlets glabrous, becoming brown or purplish brown. Leaves ovate to diamond-shaped, broadly wedge-shaped at the base, and often entire there, the terminal part more gradually tapered and coarsely toothed; 2 to 4 in. long, 11⁄4 to 3 in. wide; dark green and glabrous above, paler and also glabrous beneath, except for a few simple hairs on the veins, and sometimes tufts in the vein-axils; veins in four to six pairs; leaf-stalk 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, usually slightly hairy. Cymes 21⁄4 to 4 in. across, the main, and especially the secondary, flower-stalks usually covered with a close, pale brown, stellate down; main branches of corymb seven. Flowers white, 1⁄5 in. across, all perfect; stamens protruded, anthers yellow. Fruits red, roundish, 1⁄4 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 8672.
Native of western and central China; introduced by Wilson, who sent seeds in 1901, 1907 and 1910; it may also have been raised from the seeds collected by Farrer in Kansu in 1914. In its best forms V. betulifolium is a fine sight in autumn, when its slender branches are weighed down with the heavy trusses of bright red, translucent berries. Some plants have been noticed bearing good crops of fruit even though there is allegedly no other viburnum in the vicinity. If these are really self-fertile they would be worth propagating, but in the meantime it is safer to assume that cross-fertilisation is necessary if fruit is to be set, which means that two or more seedlings must be planted near together, or better, plants of two selected and different clones.
V. betulifolium received an Award of Merit in 1936, when shown from Trewithen in Cornwall, where there are two fine plants growing together, and a First Class Certificate in 1957 (exhibited by Sir Frederick Stern, Highdown, Sussex).
V. dasyanthum Rehd. – Closely allied to V. betulifolium and occurring in the same areas. It has similar foliage but is distinguished by having the corolla downy on the outside. Introduced by Wilson.
V. lobophyllum Graebn. – Another close ally of V. betulifolium and also closely associated with it in the wild. The differences, such as they are, are that the leaves instead of being ovate to rhombic-ovate tend to be broadly ovate to obovate, with somewhat shallower teeth (but not lobed as the specific epithet would imply); the longer peduncle of the inflorescence (to 1 in. long); and the slightly larger, rounder fruits. It is interesting that wherever Wilson found V. betulifolium he also found this species. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 164. Plants in cultivation under this name fruit well, though whether they would do so in isolation it is impossible to say. In some the fruits are larger than in V. betulifolium, in others smaller. The leaves usually colour well in the autumn.
V. ovatifolium Rehd. – The plants in cultivation were apparently raised from Wilson 240, collected in Hupeh. The leaves are broad-ovate, deltoid-elliptic or roundish elliptic, colouring in the autumn. Flowers in rather small trusses. In typical V. ovatifolium, described from Yunnan, the leaves are relatively narrower.