The Guelder Rose the Shrub of Beauty and Life

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

One of my favourite shrubs is the beautiful wild guelder rose, Viburnum opulus I say wild because there are cultivated varieties of the species.  It is not a rose at all but a member of the Adoxaceae family of plants, after being placed there from their original family Caprifoliaceae,  Indeed you will find them in the latter family in older herbals and in some more recent ones, that family included the Honeysuckle and Elder.

When I come upon this species displaying their large white flower heads in a hedgerow it never fails to lift my spirits and when they grow together, whatever the locality they make an impressive display. The shrub has been widely planted by local Authorities in order to brighten roadside shrubberies, parks and other such locations.

The common name is derived from the Dutch Province of Gueldersland where it is said to have originated,however, botanists believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest the shrub is native to Britain. Although it must be said that they grow in abundance in the Province of Gueldersland.

The species name opulus pronounced op-ew-lus is Latin indicating a kind of maple which alludes to the foliage which is said to be somewhat maple like in form. The shrub is known as the shrub of beauty and life.

Guelder in bloom

Guelder rose is impressive when growing together in numbers. Photograph by D.A.L.
Guelder rose is impressive when growing together in numbers. Photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Biology of the Guelder Rose.

The wild guelder rose is also known by a number of other common names which include cramp bark,May rose, Whitsun rose, Dog rowan tree and gaitre berries.

This is a deciduous shrub which grows to the height of five to ten feet tall, and of a spreading habit. It was though by some to resemble the elder in its habit of growth and thus is known as red elder and rose elder in some regions.

The foliage is arranged in opposite pairs along the twig and have three to five lobes, they measure approximately 5-10cm long and broad. They have a rounded base and serrated toothed margins. They are superficially similar in form to some maple foliage.

The foliage

The foliage of the guelder rose.Photograph by D.A.L.
The foliage of the guelder rose.Photograph by D.A.L.
Young maple foliage is somewhat similar to the guelder rose. Photograph by D.A.L.
Young maple foliage is somewhat similar to the guelder rose. Photograph by D.A.L.

THE FLOWERS---the flowers of the guelder rose are borne in large white flattish heads, the small inner flowers which are full of nectar are surrounded by much larger sterile outer flowers. It is thought that these sterile flowers which are very conspicuous attract insects to the smaller less conspicuous central flowers. The whole flower head is about 3-5 inches across.

Once these central flowers have been fertilised they are succeeded by green fruits that hang in drooping clusters.They quickly ripen to a bright red berry that is shiny and translucent, which makes the shrub very attractive to observe during the autumn. These berries {birds permitting} stay on the shrub throughout the winter.

The foliage of the wild guelder rose is often attacked by the sawfly larvae, which when present in large numbers can defoliate a shrub within days. Garden varieties which may be affected can be sprayed to alleviate this problem. 

Fruit of the Guelder rose

This excellent photgraph of the guelder rose fruit is courtesy of Jan Mehlich.
This excellent photgraph of the guelder rose fruit is courtesy of Jan Mehlich.

Medicinal and Culinary Uses.

The berries which are bitter tasting when fresh are edible after being frozen. During the freezing process the berries lose their acrid bitter taste. Even so it is recommended that they should not be consumed in excessive amounts. They are used in syrups and juices. They are said to be effective against cramp and have a calming effect. They contain more vitamin C than lemons.

The liquid [juice] of the berries or tea made from the dried berries and sweetened with honey was recommended against colds, gastric disorders and asthma. The skin of the fruits has been used commercially to add a colouring to alcoholic and soft drinks.

The fruits after they have been first frozen were used in sauces that were served with meat dishes. The fruits of the juice has been recommended as a cosmetic lotion for treatment of unhealthy skin complexions.

A decoction of the bark was given in tablespoon doses for nervous complaints, cramp, lockjaw and palpitations of the heart. The bark was referred to as cramp bark and it was sold on a commercial level in small strips for us in herbal preparations. The bark, is not now recommended for use in home made herbal preparations.

Guelder rose flowers

Honeysuckle

Gueder rose was oce in the same family as the honeysuckle pictured above. Photograph by D.A.L.
Gueder rose was oce in the same family as the honeysuckle pictured above. Photograph by D.A.L.

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Comments 4 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Joy56 thank you . Turn some of the photographs into poetry. Would like to see them.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

so interesting, i never knew this was used for medicinal purposes, and all the vitamins in it........ you sure do know a lot about these flowers, as always love your pictures.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Darski, we do get much more rain than even on the eastern side of the country, but touch wood, we are currently going through quite a long dry spell. I know and appreciated our shared passion for nature. Sherry is in my prayers wish her all the very best of luck from me.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

This is outstanding, I love this plant and your pictures are breathtaking as well. You are surrounded my so much beauty and you have encouraged me to do some extra planted this year. We share the same passion for nature, and your country get more rain then where I live. It is very dry in Colorado, oh by the way Sherry had her surgery yesterday, so now wanting to hear about biopsy. Love this hub rate up and the above.

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