FLORA – WILD SHRUBS
The wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) is a wild shrub that is quite commonly found in Slovenia. People are often unsure how to distinguish it from another shrub of the same family, the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus). When there are only leaves on the shrub, the answer is simple. Fold a leaf along its main vein. If a letter “D” appears (corresponding to dobrovita, the shrub’s Slovene name), it is a wayfaring tree; if a “B” appears, it is a guelder rose (Slovene name: brogovita).
But this is not the only difference.
The inflorescences of the wayfaring tree do not have the guelder rose’s characteristic wreath of barren flowers. The leaves of the wayfaring tree are thicker, stronger and have a fuzzy underside. The entire plant is poisonous. Its young twigs are flexible and useful for tying bundles and bales, a characteristic that explains the shrub’s Slovene name dobrovita, which literally means “ties well”.
The laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) is another shrub of the same genus that can be found growing spontaneously in Slovenia, although only in coastal areas. Its leaves are similar to those of the laurel, hence its name, and like the laurel it is an evergreen. Laurustinus is widely used in horticulture, although unfortunately it only thrives in a Mediterranean climate.
The snowball tree (Viburnum opulus “Roseum”) is an ornamental plant. It originated as a mutation of the guelder rose, when all the fertile flowers in the inflorescence became barren. The mutated inflorescence is snow-white in colour and has the shape of a snowball. The snowball tree first appeared in 1594, since which time it has been propagated by rooting cuttings.
When in flower, the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) is one of the most attractive shrubs in the Slovene countryside. Botanists refer to its flowers as inflorescences, which means that they are made up of many small flowers. The main peculiarity of the guelder rose’s inflorescence is that it is divided into two parts. The outer rim consists of wreath of large, snow-white flowers, while the central part is an umbel formed of smaller flowers that are not so white.
The flowers of the white rim have a lacy appearance that attracts the attention of pollinators. But when pollinators land on these flowers, they do not profit from them, since they contain neither nectar nor pollen. These flowers are barren and serve only to “advertise” the guelder rose from a distance.
Inside the white rim are the fertile flowers, which reward the pollinators for their visit by feeding them. The fertile flowers are similar in shape and colour to the flowers of the black elder, which belongs to the same family as the members of the Viburnum genus.
Red berries develop from the fertile flowers. When no other fruit is available, people sometimes cook and preserve these berries. Since the berries are not even appetising to animals, they can be seen hanging from branches long into winter. Eventually they become semi-translucent and ruby-red. If other food is scarce, they are pecked by thrushes and other birds.